Pedal Power: Travelling B.C. on a bike

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Exploring B.C. by bike has a whole lot of upsides. Photo by Riley van der Linden

Exploring B.C. by bike has a whole lot of upsides. Photo by Riley van der Linden

I remember the days I spent running around the coastal forests of B.C.; my parents cooking dinner somewhere in the distance as I played with my brother in the trees. I went on fewer and fewer trips with my parents as I grew up, but the memory of that freedom and joy in nature has always remained with me. Nowadays I’m just beginning to figure out how to camp for myself.

There is nothing better than arriving at a campground — sweaty, exhausted, muscles singing — and jumping into cool ocean water or a glacier-fed lake. I even think a dinner chargrilled on open flames tastes best when it’s eaten on a quiet, wooded coastline with close friends at arm’s reach.

Even if nobody’s brought forks or napkins and the last marshmallow’s been dropped into the fire, you’ll still sleep soundly after the long day of travelling, happy to hear the wind and the tide as you rest. Few enough people take advantage of the huge expanse of forest which surround us, but it’s not as difficult as you might think to get out.

Things to remember when travelling around B.C. on your bike

Check the weather report and prepare accordingly. Camping season is approximately from May to September, but this depends on the year’s conditions. Be as prepared as you can for wet weather: plastic bags such as Ziplocs or garbage bags can be a cost-effective way of keeping supplies dry if it does rain.

Always consider island campgrounds first when planning your trip, as drivers will flood the land-locked local campsites during the camping season. Certain campgrounds such as Newcastle Island (just off the coast of Nanaimo) do not allow cars, and some campgrounds require reservations. Select these options first during the summer months as they will take longest to become crowded. Many campgrounds such as Montague Harbour (on Galiano Island) also incorporate walk-in campsites alongside car accessible campsites; these walk-in sites will typically take longer to fill.

The B.C. Ferries service to get to these islands is relatively cheap, and can get you to secluded campgrounds far more quickly than driving alone. B.C. Ferries operates throughout the Gulf Islands and a trip costs between $10 and $20 per trip. Be aware of the ferry schedules should you choose to travel on them, especially on holidays, and an Experience Card is available if you travel with B.C. Ferries often — it can provide you with discounted fare prices.

You need to plan your route carefully in order to successfully navigate B.C.’s wilderness; wrong-turns in a car are annoying, but on a bike they can be excruciating. Know your limits: it is difficult to cycle more than 30 kilometres with bags, and can be impossible if hills and wind are against you. If you’re travelling to major ferry ports in metropolitan areas, you can often bus with your bike. Bring a map of the areas you intend to visit, or pre-load them on your phone. Most locals will be happy to provide you with directions — or even a short ride — if asked.

Even if you don’t own any of the technical equipment required to camp with a bicycle, it can be borrowed from friends, bought second-hand online from sites like Craigslist or Used Victoria, or purchased  from any outdoor adventure store. You can also rent equipment pretty cheaply from sports rental facilities like Sports Rent B.C. (in Victoria and Vancouver) or MEC (their rentals are only available in Vancouver).

Weight will be your major concern when packing, as whatever you choose to bring must be attached to your bike in panniers — bags you hitch to the side of your bike — and towed to the campground. Before you leave, pack your panniers as you would for the trip itself and go on a bike ride — you’ll soon realize whether you’ve overpacked or not (but keep in mind the elevation may be different on your actual route).

A flat tire might end your trip if you’re without a repair kit or if you don’t know how it works. Familiarize yourself with your bike and with your kit and you’ll be prepared for anything.

Clothing should be minimal and athletic. You want to be wearing clothing that you can forget about or not worry about getting dirty. Dirty clothing can be cleaned with regular soap in the ocean or under a park water pump, so an outfit per day is not necessary. A lightweight raincoat is generally worth bringing unless you are absolutely positive it won’t rain (or if you don’t mind getting wet if it does).

While fire-grilled feasts are fantastic, a short trip may mean you don’t actually need to cook while away. If you decide not to, you’ll save immensely on the weight of your panniers. It’s always a good idea to plan out your meals before leaving so you know exactly what you will need and how to minimize your carrying weight. Granola, bananas, and dehydrated milk can all be combined with water for a satisfying breakfast; pre-made sandwiches will last a day without refrigeration. Nuts, cereals, and baked goods all suit the camping lifestyle well as they’re high in energy and don’t require refrigeration.

A simple cooking set-up, like the one pictured, can be helpful for longer trips. Photo by Emily Duncan-Hansen

A simple cooking set-up, like the one pictured, can be helpful for longer trips. Photo by Emily Duncan-Hansen

But if you are going to be camping for a few days or more, cooked meals will better suit your needs. Standards such as hot dogs and s’mores are essential if you have access to an open flame, and you should remember to cook bacon or sausages before anything else to ensure nothing else sticks to your pan. If you want to bring meats from home, consider spoilage carefully; pre-frozen meat might last a day or two but anything else should be purchased close to the campground for immediate consumption. Fruits and vegetables can be brought, but be wary of bruising as these foods tend not to last long on the back of a bike.

Pack a single-burner stove if the campground you’ve selected does not allow fires, and if you’re planning on buying food while away then be sure to check where the nearest grocery store is while planning your meals. Always keep your food in a food storage locker or in a tree away from your tent, as bears are well known to snack on food that is improperly stored.

The camping experience is unique for its rudimentary charm, and, with just a little planning, our beautiful province is open to anyone to explore. Most of the trouble is just getting out the front door. Once you’ve managed that, either with friends or alone, find a solitary spot and set up camp for a while.

All you need to get you there is a bike.

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