Arriving in Victoria from Port Angeles via the Coho Ferry must be the absolute best way to get to the city. From the water, the greatest highlights of Victoria are all before me, highlighted by the glistening water and summer sun. The Empress Hotel is first to grab my attention. I always think it is a castle at first, a bit imposing and covered in ivy. This a great place to experience the British tradition of high tea. Other sights that draw my eyes are the impressive Legislative Building, the float planes landing in the harbor, colorful kayakers, overflowing flower baskets, horse-drawn buggies, and the distinct lack of skyscrapers. Artists and musicians perform and sell their wares on the walkway in front of the marina. A short stroll takes you to Beacon Hill park, Chinatown, or the Royal British Museum, just to name a few.
I have come to Victoria with my friend Ron to do my first overnight camping trip by bike. Our bikes are parked in the bike rack on the bow of the boat. I look at my bike, loaded with two panniers hanging from my rear rack, a tool kit under the seat, and a tent lashed onto the rear rack. I have lunch, clothing, toiletries, sleeping bag, and sleeping pad in my panniers – oh and don’t forget the passport, a possible new requirement for Americans to enter Canada. A handle bar bag holds my camera and a few other things. I hope there aren’t any hills – I think biking will be a little harder than I am used to on this trip.
After disembarking, we cautiously head into the crazy traffic. We can see our destination, a big blue bridge, called the Johnson Street Bridge. We make it safely over (thank you courteous Canadian drivers!) and a trail takes off to the north. We follow it to a junction pointing west for the Galloping Goose Trail and east for the Lochside Regional Trail (see separate entry), and take the turn onto the Goose toward Sooke, our final destination for the day.
The trail is a rails-to-trails project, converting what used to be a passenger rail system which included a noisy gas rail-car called the Galloping Goose (hence the name of the trail) that went between Victoria and Sooke in the 1920s. The whole trail is 60km, but we are going only 40km to Sooke.
The trail starts out in outer Victoria, still pretty urban. Although we are on a trail, we still have to stop often to cross busy streets. The trail occasionally runs right alongside the busy roads, and I hope we get more into the trees and rural area soon.
Well, right about when I was thinking that, we did indeed get to a long wooded stretch of trail. The trail has now turned to packed dirt and gravel. Not the best for thin-tired road bicycles, but perfect for Ron’s mountain bike and my hybrid bike. We mosey along at a casual pace, stopping by a small creek to eat our lunch, and later stopping at Matheson Lake Regional Park. We were going to go for a swim on the small beach, but it was super busy that day, and the small swimming area was packed with families and kids on all manner of floating animal toy. So instead we had a drink and watched the fun, then headed back up to the main trail.
The final stretch into Sooke had some fabulous views of the Straight of Juan de Fuca. There was a nice bench to stop and enjoy the view. On this stretch, there were some killer hills where the trail dropped down to cross a road, then climbed back up to the railroad grade. I assume there were originally trestles in these spots, which are now gone and are too expensive to replace. We exited down onto West Coast Road and entered Sooke.
In Sooke, we camped at Sooke River Flats Campground. This is a private campground on the Sooke River. There are geese (ahem, Canadian geese, of course) happily lazing by the river. There are only a handful of other people in the campground. I had been told by my more-experienced biker pals that people are always very interested to see people traveling by bicycle. As we set our tents, I find out first hand that this is true. The campground owner, as well as a few of our campground neighbors, stopped by to ask a lot of questions about biking the trail, what our plans are, and commenting on our little bivy tents. (See below for more campground details)
After setting up camp, we headed into town for a short hike on Whiffen Spit. First, however, on the way there, I had my first bicycle crash. Silly me, I was looking around for somewhere to have dinner after our hike, and I wasn’t paying attention to my front tire. I hit a curb dead on – going ass over teakettle (or body over bike) onto the pavement. Nothing was injured but my pride (thank you nice Canadian man who helped me up off the ground and picked up my bike!).
Still blushing from my own stupidity, I managed to finish following Ron west on West Coast Road then south on Whiffen Spit Road to Whiffen Spit, which divides Sooke Harbor from the Straight of Juan de Fuca. By the time we parked and locked the bikes, my ego had almost recovered, and we had a nice walk. The extra small opening into Sooke Harbor was interesting, and I especially loved looking back across the Straight of Juan de Fuca back to my own home, the Olympic Mountains.
Dinner was at Mom’s café (2036 Shields Road, just off West Coast Road). The first thing Ron said before we went in was that he had learned over his 69 years that you should never eat at a place called "Moms" or one that advertises that it serves "Eats." Well, this place had both disqualifiers, but since we hadn’t seen much else, and it looked pretty cute and busy, we went in. I am happy to report that we have now proven Ron’s theory wrong! He pronounced his salmon and vegetables "really great" and my all-day breakfast was delish (of course how can you go wrong with all-day breakfast?) Again, the Canadians lived up to their friendly reputation, and we chatted with folks at the booth across from us. I personally think they wanted to find out if Ron and I were father and daughter, or some kind of unconventional couple. We are neither, but hee hee- we kept ‘em guessing!
We didn’t have time, but if possible, I think it would be best to spend two nights in Sooke, spending the middle day biking 20km farther up (and 20km back) the Galloping Goose Trail to the end at Leechtown, and stopping at the Sooke Potholes Provincial Park for a dip along with way.
The trip back was fairly unremarkable, except my second embarrassing incident involving sitting in gum. Ah… my life is slapstick….
For more information, check out these websites:
Galloping Goose Trail
Sooke River Flats Campground
Sooke Region Museum/Visitor Infor Centre
Sooke Community Website
Sooke Potholes Regional Park
Galloping Goose Trail B&B group
Matheson Lake Regional Park
To reach Sooke River Flats Campground: Exit the Galloping Goose Trail onto West Coast Road and continue west. After crossing over the Sooke River on the bridge, take the first right onto Phillips Road. At this intersection is also the Sooke Regional Museum and Visitor Information Center (daily 9am-5pm). Follow Phillips Road to the campground, which is on the right on the river. Open April 1 – September 31, $18 CAN without hookups. Phone: (250) 642-6076, Email: email@example.com
Another note about the trail is that I found a distinct lack of toilet facilities – be warned!