Saturday, January 16, 2021

Vancouver Island tip to tip

“You want trips like these to go smooth but not too smooth. You need some adversity to make things memorable, like a grouse attack or something.”

-Cam Smith

San Josef bay

2020 was a dumpster fire of a year for everyone.  I was fortunate enough to be able to work full time, but by summer I was feeling completely burnt out and was looking for a way to take some time off in a relatively safe way. I don't really have a list, but I have this muddy swamp in the back of my head where I have ride ideas floating around. The Vancouver island tip to tip ride had been bobbing in that bog for awhile, so I thought to myself: "What the hell, let's just do this." 

I mapped out the ride but decided to avoid some of the villages on the North Island even though I have always wanted to check them out. At the time of the ride some municipalities were not fully open to visitors. I told myself that it's nice to have things left to check out and I will save those trips for another time. 

    With a route outline and a hobbled together bikepacking rig, there was nothing left to do but to execute the plan. 

Empty roads, the right track. 

I was joined on parts of the ride by my friends Sarah Hauser and Sam Whittingham. Sarah is a Kayak guide, a mountaineer and a general badass and Sam is a custom bike builder from Quadra Island (Naked) and an accomplished cyclist in almost every way imaginable. Certainly good company in those two. Sarah would join me for the first two days and Sam for the two following ones and the last three I would be on my own. 

    My buddy Cam felt like a drive, so he dropped Sarah and I off in San Josef Bay in the Cape Scott Provincial Park. A quick 560km (one way) drop off executed in comfort and style. Sarah and I started from there and two days later Sam would meet us in Woss after riding from his doorstep on Quadra Island. Sarah would then ride back to Port Hardy the following day. All I had to do, was to ride back to my place in Victoria, close to Mile Zero. Not exactly the southernmost point, but just like San Josef to the north,  -close enough. 


Woss Gas station meet 


Buttle Bluffs Road
The Vancouver Island traverse was a great week on the bike. The Island is beautiful and rugged, yet easily traveled through on a bike. The ownership and logging lease agreements are complicated in this part of the world and locked gates are everywhere much to the frustration of outdoor enthusiasts. However, the bicycle is a maneuverable machine and a dainty logging gate isn't as impassable as it is in a bigger vehicle. Most days I was jumping two or three gates and in the South Island things get stupid when it comes to gates. Usually you won't run into anyone behind locked gates, but if you do, my experience has been that as long as you’re respectful, you won't have an issue with the professionals in there. 
What I do have issues with is that online maps of the Island cannot always be trusted. It seems like logging companies and the governmental agencies will petition to have roads removed from maps for various reasons. this has become more apparent in recent years. It's a frustrating trend that caused some navigational scares on this trip but everything worked out in the end thanks to multiple map sources and the fact that I mostly mapped the route using old fashioned paper maps.

The roads on the Island are generally good and they are plentiful because of the extensive logging that has been going on here for the last 150 years. I feel conflicted traveling through these areas on the bike. On the one hand there is the beauty of a healthy forest, the ocean views, mountain peaks and the sub alpine passes. On the other hand it's the emptiness that comes with the dystopian destruction of massive clearcuts and forest decimated by wildfire. Both scenarios offer a feeling of awe, but for precisely the opposite reasons. -The abundance and the barren. Meanwhile, our access although limited, to these experiences is mostly provided by the roads built for the logging industry. 

The ride took seven days and was just under 800km. It was slow going at times but most of the roads are incredibly nice. I would say that my mountain bike was borderline overkill but the larger tires provided a peace of mind going over the rougher patches and the flat handlebar of a mountain bike offers more room for carrying stuff on the front. Both Sam and Sarah rode their cross bikes without incident.

The Tip to Tip Ride is a great way to experience Vancouver Island. It’s not overly hard, it's easily navigable for the most part, and you’re never too far from civilization while still getting the feeling of being out there. The only regret I have is that I wish I could've done it slower. There are so many things to experience out there but I was on a bit of a timeline. Seven days is very doable for the ride but the best days on the backroads are days with frequent stops, exploratory side missions and the all important swimming holes. 

Oh yeah, about that grouse. A day after Cam had suggested that it was a nice time to have one attack you, Sarah and I got charged by a Sooty Grouse in an abandoned copper mine near Coal Harbour. At certain times of the year, the male Grouse will defend its territory and challenge all intruders. Evidently, what you don't want to do is to mimic its call but that is precisely what I did. Furious at this injustice, Don Quixote the grouse launched an attack. After a hilarious display of aggression, consisting of pecking at my bike tires and my shoes, Sarah and I ceded victory and retreated hastily. The Don was left basking in his glory, justifiably proud of his conquest; the monsters fought off and his land protected. That bird is one brave forest chicken, and Cam Smith is a prophetic wizard.

The Route

Lee Blaze and the Jumping Slug Cyclery in Port Alberni

Bike Check: 

My rig for this ride was hobbled together with stuff I had laying around. The backbone of the build is an old Opus xc racing frame and a Surly 1x1 Fork that Maysmith frameworks modified to accept Salsa Anything cages. I also installed a Sun front rack to take some load off the handlebar sling. It's a 1x10 drivetrain with a 30t ring on an XT crankset and a 11x42 Cassette using a Deore clutch derailleur and an XT shifter. The pedals are old Shimano 540s. The rims are mismatched carbon Bontrager rims laced to Straight pull Bontrager hubs with DT Swiss internals. The saddle is a Specialized mounted to an Easton carbon seatpost. For aiming duties there is a Bontrager carbon handlebar mounted on a Straitline stem. The brakes are the venerable Shimano XT M-785 brakes and the tires are Maxxis icon tires in a 2,2” in the rear and 2,35” in the front. The bags are a mix of Porcelain Rocket (seat bag and handlebar harness) , Oveja Negra frame bag, and Blackburn triangle bag and stem bags. This setup although pieced together, worked without incident on this ride. I’m intending on replacing the forks and handlebar for a slightly more relaxed geometry and for comfort. I did experience some hand fatigue and the steep angles of the frame make handling a bit aggressive with the short axle to crown of the 1x1 fork. I may install a granny ring on the front that I can shift manually for the big climbs. Otherwise, this setup works pretty well. 


  1. What a fantastic trip that was! Thanks for the push out the door!

  2. Great write up! Makes me even more ancy to get back to the island for some riding.


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