Winter weather lingers, but we can’t wait. We test our new bikes on a four-day trip to Mayne, the little Gulf Island that lies midway between Victoria and Vancouver. For its small size, Mayne Island has a lot of attractions: panoramic viewpoints, sea lions, a classic lighthouse, an immaculate Japanese garden, a bakery, and lightly-travelled lumpy country roads. It’s a right neighbourly place, too.
The first step is to cycle from downtown Victoria to the Swartz Bay ferry terminal, 34 kilometres along a former railway line, the Lochside Regional Trail. Many parts of the Lochside Trail are off-road, quiet, and picturesque, but in some places, trail users share busy public roads with motor vehicles.
The world is becoming a better place, we muse – or at least it’s more cycle-friendly. Cyclists now have a green-painted bicycle track and their own stop-and-go light where the Lochside Trail crosses Mackenzie Avenue, an intersection we used to dread. Getting onto the ferry is slick, too. Except for the toll booth ($2 per bicycle; no passenger fare for BC seniors travelling Monday through Thursday), bicycles have their own lane through the busy BC Ferries terminal. After a 45-minute ferry ride, we arrive at Village Bay dock, Mayne Island’s arrival and departure point.
Cycling tour of Mayne Island
The South Island Loop (13 km) is “a masochist’s delight” according to John Crouch’s Cycling the Islands, so we tackle those hilly roads first. Our bike batteries make the lumpy roads doable, but pedal-assist does not eliminate the need to huff-and-puff on Gallagher Bay Road, Marine Drive, and Mariners Way.
A crew of cheerful volunteers are tending the Japanese Garden when we arrive at Dinner Bay Park. In the 1930s one-third of the island’s residents were Japanese. These settlers were displaced during the internment of Japanese Canadians during World War II. Their contribution to the island’s heritage is honoured with this beautiful garden, built by locals on land that once belonged to a Japanese family. “You must come back at Christmas,” recommends a volunteer. Elves decorate the Garden with festive lights.
The North Island Loop’s first stop is the historic Georgina Point Lighthouse, built in 1885 to warn ships of the reefs and choppy waters of Active Pass. The lighthouse is de-activated, but the headland is a popular spot for picnics and for watching boats as they transit Active Pass.
No car, no bike, no problem. Mayne Island is a right neighbourly place. Green-and-white Car Stop signs are located at twenty-five pullouts all around Mayne. Pedestrians who need a lift can wait at the signs for drivers who are willing to share the ride as part of this free, voluntary, community-friendly program.
The community sharing continues at the privately-owned peninsula Edith Point. Respectful walkers are welcome on the trails, according to several locals we meet, so we leave our bikes at the end of Edith Road and walk a well-maintained six-kilometre loop to the Point. This is the most scenic walk on Mayne Island in our opinion. On the coastal section, Cathy is sure she sees polar bears swimming towards us. Turns out it’s four Steller sea lions, and they are huge. No wonder the Steller is considered the king of sea lions.
Point to Point
“It’s a good day to read a book,” says Carmen, our host at Blue Vista Resort – a great place to stay, by the way. We don’t fancy muddying our new bikes in Monday’s all-day rain, but we have umbrellas, so Carmen suggests a few walking routes. We accomplish all her recommendations, and by the end of the day, Doug’s GPS says we walk twenty kilometres.
From Blue Vista, we walk north along Bennett Bay, a fine beach. An easy trail runs out to Campbell Point, returning along a cliff edge; these trails are part of the Gulf Island National Park Preserve. Next, we go south and through a No Through Road sign, eventually reaching the government dock at Horton Bay.
A new regional park is coming to Mayne Island: St. John Point. “You are welcome to wander through,” says a gentleman on a clean-up mission, and so we do. The trails are informal, but we find the Point and its arbutus grove (scaring a group of invasive Fallow Deer along the way). This new 26-hectare park is a community success story. Local residents – around 1,000 people live on the island – raised $2.1 million in a campaign run by the Mayne Island Conservancy. Now, the land has been purchased through a partnership between the Capital Regional District, the Conservancy, and the American Friends of Canadian Land Trusts.
Enjoy the ride
Our new bikes, Norco VLTs, attract a lot of attention. This surprises us because the bikes are black and rather plain-looking. The battery range – 130 km in Eco Mode – impresses people, and they always want to know how much the bike weighs (we don’t know, but, yes, they are heavy). What also causes jaws to drop is Doug mentioning his age: 77 years. He’s supposed to be at home in his rocking chair watching Jeopardy, right? Oak Bay Bicycles is where we bought our bikes. If you are interested in an e-bike, check out their E-Bike Demo on Demand program.
And here’s a tip from Doug learned from experience: if you are going to fall off your bike, aim for a salal-covered ravine. It will soften your landing.