As I pushed my bike around the Chilcotin Mountains last summer I vowed that any bike touring I did in 2016 would involve actually riding my bike! So as I looked for route options I was really interested by Skyler’s Lower Sunshine Coast bikepacking route, which not only offered up “100% riding”, but also “70% singletrack” over “a 3 day/121km route.” As I thought more about this ride I decided it made sense to go as light as possible so I could ride my day-to-day full-suspension trail machine. Riding all that singletrack at on a [relatively] heavily loaded bikepacking rig didn’t sound as appealing as being able to ride aggressively on a trail bike that just happened to have camping gear on it.
My buddy John was up for a summer adventure and he is a strong rider who didn’t mind the idea of stripping the gear list down to the bare essentials. He had ridden the trails from Halfmoon Bay down to Gibsons in the past and was really enthusiastic to explore more of the Sunshine Coast.
Culling the gear list took a bit of work. I really wanted to be on a mountain bike ride with camping gear rather than a camping tour on a mountain bike if that makes any sense. We ditched a bunch of the heavy stuff…no tent, no stove/fuel, no pot or mug or bowl, no breakfast/dinner meals, etc… Our plan was to sleep on the ground and bring tarps in case it rained. We’d have snack food for the day with us, but our plan was to ride hard and hit towns for morning and evening meals.
As the date got closer my work situation got really hectic with the sudden departure of a key person whose duties I had to take over to keep things rolling. I started to doubt my ability to go on the trip, but after some negotiations at work and with John we rejigged the dates and reduced our schedule to the bare minimum.
That meant a 330am start on day one for me to grab my gear and be ready when John showed up at my house with his truck and we loaded our bikes in the dark. I’m a morning person, but waking up before 4am is cruel! We headed up the island to the Nanaimo Ferry Terminal and sailed across to North Vancouver where we jumped on a second ferry to Gibsons, BC and the start of our ride. Spending 3hrs+ on ferries meant we had a chance to relax and chat about the trip without any rush to start riding our bikes.
Arriving in Gibsons about noon we got on our bikes and hit the dirt a few minutes later. If you look at the elevation profile of the route you’ll see a big chunk of climbing and descending at the start. I can verify that both are true. We spent many hours pointed upwards riding some amazing trails as we gained elevation. The trails between Gibsons and Sechelt had quite a variety of smooth fast buff sections mixed in with typical BC roots and rocks. There were also a lot of wooden bridges…a lot of bridges. Mostly of the wide casual variety, but also a few skinnies that came at us unexpectedly and made us pay attention.
Sometime around 3pm I realized I was riding in a daze just mindlessly plowing down the trail due to the early start and all the extra work/stress of the past few weeks. I suggested to John that we take a rest break and he agreed. We pushed our bikes off into the forest and found a comfy spot to lay down. I ate an energy bar and drank a bunch of water before dozing in and out for an hour or so. Waking up I felt 100% better and we got back on the trail with a lot more energy and alertness. I figured there was no point zombie riding sweet trails and then not remembering what had happened the next day.
Even though our gear was light it still took a bit of time to get acclimated to the extra weight. At first my timing was off and I was manoeuvring the bike clumsily, but that passed and things felt more and more natural. By the time we reached the high point of the route at a little below 800m we were primed to rip down the other side towards Sechelt and the luxuries of a pub.
That part of the ride did not disappoint. I’m continually impressed at the quality and quantity of mountain bike trails in Coastal BC. As we cruised downhill we passed so many turn offs to other trails that were waiting for us to explore them it was hard to stay focused on making progress north. With the extra speed imbued by gravity it was so much fun to rail the bermed turns and jump the bike off stepdowns and roots/rocks. I was really glad my camping gear was minimal.
After about 40kms of riding we had made it to Sechelt at 630pm and quickly found a pub by the ocean. It was warm and sunny so we were treated to a lovely coastal sunset on the deck. Several pints of beers and a mountain of nachos later we started to ponder our camping options. There was a Provincial Park a 4km bike ride away, but with no tents to pitch and wanting to stay close to town for a breakfast feast we rolled into an industrial area and found a wooded spot to lay down for the night.
The weather forecast for the trip started sunny/hot and was trending towards cloudy/warm with increasing chances for rain. So we didn’t bother setting up tarps the first night. Being in the trees we didn’t even see any dew, which made for a quick pack in the morning as all our gear was dry. It didn’t take long to find a greasy spoon dinner and a classic car show in “downtown” Sechelt. We filled our bellies and water bottles then did some bike maintenance while enjoying the fine hot rod automobiles on display.
We headed out of town about 9am and started climbing right away. There second part of the route doesn’t have the single epic climb/descent the first part did, but there were many shorter climbs to contend with and a lot mileage to cover as well. The previous day our ride was fuelled with excitement and anticipation, which by the second day had been replaced with tired legs!
Although the route from Sechelt up to Earl’s Cove was longer at over 68kms it did feature more fireroad riding. The mix of singletrack and fireroad was pretty good and gave us the opportunity to cover some ground while relaxing a bit before tackling each new section of techy singletrack. I had a good laugh at myself as we realized we hadn’t even covered half the distance and it was well after noon. Be careful what you ask for…you wanted to ride…okay here’s an all you can eat buffet!
We grabbed another strategic enduro-nap to gather our strength for a big push 40kms+ up to Earl’s Cove. It’s amazing what an hour of rest and relaxation does for your energy levels. A typical “big” trail ride day for me is ~30kms. I’ve done lots of 100km+ days on fireroads, but 1km on a techy trail is like 3kms on fireoads in terms of how much energy it sucks out of you not to mention much slower speeds. I have to admit I was getting pretty bagged as we got into the afternoon. John’s back was bothering him, but he was riding strong.
We discussed stopping short of Earl’s Cove and camping then pushing on the last bit the following day, but neither of us wanted to miss out on the ice cold beers waiting for us in town. As we motored down each section of trail the kms were eaten up and it became easier and easier to stay motivated to finish the ride. At one point near Klein Lake on a super steep climb we ran into a German family on vacation. The dad was pushing his mountain bike and loaded trailer uphill very very slowly. We couldn’t even imagine how hard that was. Kudos to them for being so rad. Also for making us feel so light and speedy!
At Klein Lake we rested for a minute and scored some more water. We were only a few kms from the finish, but there was a stiff climb or two left and then an epic bomb down the Sun Coaster trail. I kept thinking of how great the beer and burgers in town were going to taste! The Sun Coaster paid off with some amazing steep tight switchbacks that bled altitude fast and keep our adrenaline pumping. We both forgot how tired we were and stayed focused on rallying the last few minutes of dirt.
Eventually all good things must end and we found ourselves at the last trailhead. All the singletrack was done. That was sad, but we had a bigger problem. It was nearly 7pm and we weren’t sure how late the only restaurant in Earl’s Cove was open. So we blasted [downhill thankfully] to the town/ferry terminal. We got there just in time as they closed at 730pm. A 750ml beer, a burger, a soup and a hotdog…I just kept eating until they kicked me out! Happily they sold us some take away beers to enjoy in camp.
While we were pondering our camping options we hung out at the BC Ferries Terminal charging phones, refilling water and using their clean bathrooms. Not to mention enjoying a spectacular sunset over the coastal mountains. Despite living in the area for the last 6 years I keep getting blown away by how beautiful it is. Eventually we settled on a stand of trees between the road and a trailer park since it was so close at hand.
It had started to rain on and off while we were at the ferry terminal so we setup tarps over our sleeping bags. We were both pretty tired and we went straight to sleep with a plan to get up early so we could hammer south on the highway with no traffic for as long as possible. I woke up to sporadic light rain a couple times in the night, but it didn’t amount to much. With no stove and no restaurant open at 530am when we got up we simply packed our bikes, chewed an energy bar and hit the road.
Our cunning plan worked really well. We made it ~22kms south to Madeira Park before traffic from the first ferry caught up with us. That was also the location of a fabulous cafe where we stopped to get our munch on and relax for a moment. Eventually we jumped back on the much busier highway and battled traffic for another ~19kms south to Halfmoon Bay where we deeked into a convenience store just as a heavy rain started to fall. Appreciating our totally perfect timing we put on our rain gear and waited a few minutes to let the rain do its thing. As luck would have it the rain stopped just as we needed to ride the last few minutes to the BC Transit stop where we caught the first of two buses that would take us back to the ferry terminal down at our start in Gibsons.
Two ferries, a couple beers/burgers and a 90 min drive on the island got us home from our 3 day adventure. Considering how much we got done I’m pretty blown away that we fit it all into that short time. If you live in this area or want a taste of Coastal BC riding this route is well worth your time. There is so much great riding to do and you can like up this ride with other destinations like Powell River, Vancouver Island or Squamish/Whistler. 🙂