Dirt by the Seaside: Bike Touring Texada Island

The ocean felt like bathwater. A welcome reprieve from the usual cringe-producing ice bath of the West Coast of BC. I eased my way in step by step, the water picking away at the grime and sweat of a full day, mid-summer ride. Alycia strode into the water with confidence, and purpose, more at ease around water than I am. I’m always worried about hurting my feet. We climbed onto the trunk of a huge old-growth tree just out of the water, a relic of the island’s history. I could see a white motorboat in the distance, drifting lazily. I tilted my head to see if I could hear the inevitable music, cheering and the yells that I imagine would be happening on a party boat. I hear nothing, only silence and the lapping of the water on the beach.

The serenity of Texada Island stayed with me long after our trip was over. The water, the dirt, the forests, and the flowers. The abandoned buildings, peeling bleached paint, and those overtaken by thick, green moss. The quiet. I find there is a heavy silence that accompanies the stale heat of high summer. We were getting away at the start of the “heat dome” that hit the majority of West North America during the summer of 2021.

The last few summers, it’s become sort of tradition to try and loosely plan a few days on the bike around my birthday. I use the word loosely on purpose. These trips have always taken on a slight uncertainty, whether it be the ride-ability of the route itself, water sources, campsites, food, and so on. Leave a few details out and you’re left with a very minor foray into the unknown, just enough to keep things interesting, but still enjoyable.

As with many a cycling trip, we began with the massive gear sprawl on a patch of grass. This grass happened to be borrowed from our gracious friends Emily and Miles (thanks for the bag of cookies and the trail tips!). Besides the usual accouterment of bike paraphernalia, it was mostly snacks that were packed, discarded, re-packed, and fretted over. A goal of this trip was to slightly indulge in things we might not normally make room for on a trip like this – books, bourbon, treats and even a chess set found their way onto the bikes. In my usual method of travel, we catch the ferry at the absolute eleventh hour.

As we rolled off the ferry from Powell River and onto the island, there was a break in the peace and quiet as the daily ferry traffic roared by, the belly of the iron whale empty. This was only temporary, and soon we were rolling along the pavement, eager to see the first bit of dirt road that still lay many kilometres ahead. Friendly locals waved and gave us a wide berth on the road, something we always appreciate. My first memories blur into a mixture of hills, descents, photo stops, and map checks. Our first potential campsite lay at the bottom of a committing descent. Not usually a problem, but we were unsure if we’d find a suitable place to stop for the night, or even running water, options were weighed, discussed, and weighed again.

Ultimately, it’s just too much fun to ride a loaded bike down a giant gravel hill to the ocean. Eyes peeled for a water source, we glimpsed what can only be described as a trickle of water down a steep embankment. Two factors motivated us to slip, slide, slither and scurry down the loose walls of the creek. One – dehydration in the mid-summer heat. Serious, but not as serious as factor two – not having enough water to accommodate an afternoon coffee, and at least two more each the following morning. A trickle becomes an oasis when it’s enough to fill every bottle and bladder you can cram into your bags.

A left turn, maybe a right, scratched by low branches and ribbed by washboard. We rolled into a campsite that can only be described as borderline ludicrous. A flat patch of grass, surrounded by wildflowers, next to a calm ocean bay. We looked at each other in disbelief, we were alone save for a single sailboat lazily bobbing at anchor. On many trips, we are arriving at camp late, scarfing down a meal before crawling into our tent.

On this occasion, arriving early, we could indulge in a few swims, some reading, and the enthusiastic scamper about with cameras in tow, greedily clicking away. It’s tough to say if it was the bourbon, heatstroke, or the quiet beauty of the place, regardless, I laid down in the grass for a nap, feeling drunk and content.

Unfortunately, we did have to climb back out of that long descent described previously, but sufficiently caffeinated, I barely remember it. Bandanas on, bottles filled, we pedaled our way up and down as the sun beat down, through farms and turns to nowhere. Our skin became a thick cloak of sunscreen mixed with the fine dust of a perfect road. The long climbs broke up the day, and although never too painful, we were happy to forget them. We stopped for lunch next to an empty lake and the order of events was obvious. Coffee on, strip down, swim, repeat. While we could have been perfectly content to duplicate those activities, we saddled up and pedaled in anticipation of the next (hopefully) perfect camp spot.

After many more kilometers, the inevitable inclines and declines, snacks and stops, we arrived at the end of the island. On a map, the end of the island appears at the bottom, the finish, and although we knew we had a long trip back the way we came, the nature of an out and back ride, it was worth it. Sometimes the ride was steep and loose, but it felt like we glided down the final smooth double track to the sea.

A burst of energy seems to take hold when you reach your destination. The search for other campers, anyone? Surprisingly not. The search for flat ground, here? Over there? The luxury of options. The activity comes to an abrupt halt, the list of tasks and to-do’s is done. You’re only left with that perfect silence. Coffee on, strip down, swim, repeat.