After sitting down to plan a few spring adventure rides, I started to notice a resounding fact about each trip. They almost all involved taking a ferry to either the mainland, or one of the many surrounding islands. This got me thinking about how often cyclists must do the opposite of me and take the ferry to ride on Vancouver Island. With the next long weekend on it's way, I thought this would be a perfect opportunity to set out on a route that could potentially inspire these sea-faring riders to new locations and roads.
Just over 100km's North-West of Departure Bay, lies Cumberland. If you're a Mountain Biker then you've most likely heard of the small town thanks to it's constantly expanding network of trails. A community that's very involved in the sport and incredibly welcoming to anyone on two wheels. Naturally my destination became The Riding Fool Hostel and a big thank you goes to Jeremy for booking me in on such short notice.
Residing on the main drag of the little village, The Riding Fool shares a building with two other business' that couldn't be a better fit to a riding themed hostel. Directly below is Dodge City Cycles, and to its right is Tarbells Cafe & Deli. Shortly after arriving and noticing that I had some time to kill before check-in, the employees of DCC directed me to the bike wash behind the premises which was severely needed after those salty spring roads had their way with my Cervelo.
Bike cleaned and street clothes thrown on, it was time to refuel with some coffee and food as I cruised my way into Tarbells. I ordered an americano and breakfast sandwich before taking a seat next to the large front windows. Having a few quiet moments after the ride was a great chance to look up and down the street of the main drag through the pains of glass that were slowly being stained with moisture from the rain. It appeared I'd beaten the storm by just a matter of minutes.
Once check-in time arrived, I received the grand tour around an almost empty hostel. Great natural light, a large variety of room types ranging from private to communal, multiple socializing areas, a kitchen filled with anything you would need for food prep, and even a designated quiet area made the space feel well rounded and accommodating. Some of the decorating even paid homage to the hardware store it once was.
Within the hour, people started filing into the empty rooms. Some arrived alone, others as groups, and even a family showed up. Not long after, the visitors made their way into the more social areas of the hostel and it was evident that most guests were seeking similar thrills. Talks of past adventures, trails in far off towns, and shared stories of other extreme sports that had taken them halfway around the world.
With big evening plans ahead, some afternoon rest was on my mind. Eerily enough, the bed was almost indistinguishably as comfortable as my own at home, bringing up thoughts such as, "If I lay down, will I just continue to hit the snooze button?". With that notion in my mind, I hit the showers instead and began the rest of my afternoon.
Being located in the heart of town made it incredibly easy to visit other amenities one might need. In my case I was able to purchase a thrifted Buffalo Sabres sweatshirt, pick-up a Cronut from the bakery, have dinner at the Waverly, and catch a few cover songs from a live band all within a few minutes walk of the front door.
But, if you've arrived and still haven't received your fix of riding, Dodge City Cycles has MTB rentals and trail recommendations for every skill level or adventure. Hitting the trails would offer a great blend between the road rides that bring you to and from this tiny gem of a town.
Depending on which route you decide to take, expect a distance anywhere between 105km to 120km as it boils down to a choose your own adventure once you've left Nanaimo. In the case of my own ride, I opted for the quiet and slow pace of the Old Island Highway while taking small detours to reconnect with the shoreline.
I remember being a child in the back seat of my parents blazer cruising these roads, stuck behind old station wagons and hatchbacks. Passing opportunities were rare and traffic was lined up, but it was the only way from A to B when traveling either North or South.
Since the induction of the Inland Highway, all of these problems have almost been forgotten just like the business' that line the once bustling strip of concrete. Restaurants, cafes, gas stations, and even a few mini-golf venues lay in wait for traffic that never seems to arrive. It was hard not to think back on how busy some of these establishments must have been in their prime, and how many others don't even exist anymore. What does remain seems to be supported by the local "usuals" and thankfully, the odd cyclist who takes joy in exhausting themselves on the bike.
From time to time I'd get a glimpse of the newer, and faster highway that was almost always perched at a higher elevation. Sitting there with it's speeding traffic, as if the terrain had a smugness about itself, looking down on the inferior single lane roads. Little did it know that not everyone enjoys the quicker of two options.
As for the riding itself, it was an easy day in the saddle. Soft climbs, gentle curves, minimal traffic, and some far off mountains to chase made for a relaxing morning. Even with the small amount of effort put into my pace, I was able to make the 115km journey in three hours, thirty-eight minutes and had no doubt that if pressed for time a group could hammer to town in under three hours.
Even if you're after an epic weekend of riding, there's more than a handful of road rides to be planned around the Comox Valley that would fill your quota including a trip up Mt. Washington, or some gravel grinds on the logging roads that seem to lace the countryside like a baseball.
Strava Ride Data:
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