VIDEO & Trip Report
Getting the Goods: Southern Vancouver Island
The premise was simple. Patrick Nolan, owner operator of Nolan Riding, reached out to me via mutual friend to ask if we'd be interested in coming over to get a taste for the riding experience in and around Victoria and Sooke and make a video and story about it. Nolan Riding already has a long track record of coaching youth, adults, and racers on Vancouver Island, and had recently expanded their operation and added guiding to the mix. Patrick and co. are respected members of the BC riding community, and they wanted to draw a little more attention to the gems that are the trails over on their home turf.
I've been lucky enough to ride in lots of different parts of BC, but the South Island had eluded me. After polling friends and acquaintances from around the Shore, I'm not alone. We all know the riding on the South Island is good, but hadn't proved it to ourselves. Here was the chance.
The idea was to experience a weekend getaway that a riding couple would take, complete with a stay at the very nice and very MTB-friendly Hotel Grand Pacific in downtown Victoria. For various scheduling reasons, my riding partner for the weekend was Emma Le Rossignol, who has been reviewing some products for us this past year.
We loaded the bikes and caught a ferry from Tsawassen to Nanaimo and made the 90-minute drive South to Victoria. I had been assured the Grand was bike-friendly but it still felt unusual to be wheeling a couple of bikes through the lobby of a five-star hotel in downtown Victoria. No one batted an eye as we rolled up to check in. We were told that there were mats waiting in the rooms that we could use to keep our tires off the carpets. The rooms were very well-appointed and spacious, with plenty of room for bikes, gear, bags, etc. And the beds? As you'd expect, comfortable. Good thing, too, because we had a couple of big days ahead of us!
Wake up, check the weather (tip: the weather in Vic is notoriously good, with more sun than Vancouver and 2 1/2 times less rain - let's not even get into rainfall numbers vs North Van). Grab your gear and a breakfast burrito and coffee from downstairs, and there's a couple of trucks waiting for us in the lot. We meet Patrick and Merin, discuss the day, and we're off.
Our destination today: the Dump aka Hartland. These are some of the oldest and most famous trails on the Island, famous for views of the Pacific with Arbutus trees standing sentinel, complete with granite slabs and twisting singletrack winding its way down through forested sections of loam and rooty fun.
There's a brief period at the beginning of every road trip for me when pre-trip nerves turn into something else - call it curiosity. If it's a group trip with strangers, my brain wonders if we're all going to get along, how bad are the climbs going to be, is the riding going to be as good as I expected it to be, will we get lost...you get the picture.
When it's a guided trip, it's a different kind of curiosity: will I like the guides, will they like me, will they truly show us the goods, etc. It's not that I've experienced many bad group trips or guided trips - quite the opposite. I'm lucky to get to do both of those things as part of this job more often than I normally could manage, and that involves good riding with great people in interesting places. That doesn't factor into this curiosity calculus, though. At the start of every trip, it's normal to get those pre-trip tingles. And our trip to southern Vancouver Island earlier this year was no different.
If it sounds like I was working on a major case of nerves, that was not the case. But the first minutes of the first ride is that 'sorting out' period and it was going great. We stopped at a clearing during the climb to check out a section of skinnies over a pond - bog might be a better word. Most of us passed on the skinny - it was truly stick-like and the dank-smelling black mess that awaited your mistake was enough to stick us to our guns. Ollie flew the drone for some b-roll while we chilled out. Hailey had other plans. She ditched her pack and announced she was going to take the skinny (for anyone that knows Hailey, this is something she does and we love her for it). We lined up in anticipation. Halfway along and in the middle of the crux, she made it through the beginning of the turn, stalled, lost the front, dropped the end of her axle onto the log, and... tumbled into the black abyss. Hailey shrieked, stood up and proclaimed: "oh my god, it smells like shiiiiit!"
We all howled. Hailey wretched and tried to clean herself off, in futility. The ice was broken. Our guides - and we - were able to relax. The die was cast. It was going to be a good one.
From the beginning of the ride I'm reminded - yet again - that a proper climb trail is a keystone to a successful network. Facilitate that uphill flow and riders will come down happy. We paused at the top to admire the view with a snack and then sessioned a granite outcrop, giggling our way through optional lines and sliding tires. You've seen the views and Arbutus trees and granite from the top of the Hartland trails. It's as good as you imagined. Slabs gave way to semi-tech with jumps and berms and optionals, and we yelped our way down the trails. Why have I never made it a point to ride here before?
We finished the ride, got the shots, and headed for lunch at the Redbarn aka Hullabaloo, a grocery store/deli with incredible made to order sandwiches and a terrific ice cream truck parked outside. I want this for all of my post-ride lunches, forever. That would have been enough, but we had another plan: a swim at Durance Lake. Easy parking and multiple access points make it a perfect spot to cool off, even on a busy summer weekend. The water was perfect. This day couldn't get any better, but we had yet another stop: cold beers lay in wait at Vancouver Island Brewing. With a west coast vibe, the tap room is a great place to meet old friends or make new ones, and the varied selection of beers was worthy of the day we'd just had. Our cups would have runneth over if we weren't so busy draining them.
You could easily recreate our itinerary and feel sated without being overwhelmed. The filming aspect takes time and we still fit it in easily - nothing is too far away, the driving is easy. We made it back to the hotel and could have called it a day but dinner awaited us. The Hotel Grand Pacific has a special restaurant on site called Fathom, and we were expected. We showered and gathered for a meal I can still savour, with views of the harbour and downtown Victoria. Signature dishes and overstuffed booths gave way to well-made cocktails in the lounge. We had to behave. Day 2 lay in wait.
For our second day, we had two riding destinations: the Jordie Lunn Bike Park and Harbourview. We woke up refreshed and headed out. We'd seen images and video of the park built in Jordie's honour, but this was everyone's first time there. Construction greeted us - it is soon to be the site of a cycling coaching and development facility that will be able to house races and events. However, that was just a building at the entrance - the park is fully open and operational, and free to the public. Velosolutions built a massive pump track (biggest by far any of us had ever seen) and the trails are extensive - and growing. There are skills zones and plenty of trails to explore, and it's getting bigger all the time. Langford has a gem on their hands and I hope North Van (and Sechelt!) take note and model future municipal bike park development after what they've got going at JLBP.
We made our way over to Harbourview, where we were able to get a taste for what the Sooke Bike Club is up to with their trail building and development initiatives. Coles Notes: wicked fun trails and lots of (hard-earned) progress. Like in so many other communities, the SBC is run by passionate volunteers whose efforts are paying off after many years of hard work, advocacy, and persistence. After sampling some great trails, we headed to Sooke Oceanside Brewing - where else? They're located in a sweet little tucked away location with a food truck nearby (with amazing grilled cheese sandwiches) and once again, amazing beer and snacks greeted us- this time with waterfront views! What a way to wrap up a big day of riding.
Resisting the temptation to overdo it, we headed down the road to meet most of the Board of the Sooke Bike Club over drinks and dinner at a funky roadhouse called Route 14. Mountain bikers of Sooke: you're lucky to have such great people working on your behalf. As visitors, we felt welcomed and appreciated. Great vibes all around!
After a couple of awesome days of riding, eating, and meeting new friends, we had one more great sleep at the Grand before hitting the road to head home.
It's easy to rely on our local trails - especially when they're so good right here in the Sea 2 Sky region - but the experience of discovering new areas can't be beat. Patrick and Merin from Nolan Riding delivered not only all the great riding we could handle, but all of the other things that turn a riding weekend into a memorable experience: the laughter, food, and good times won't soon be forgotten, and we'll be back next year to find all the tucked away treasures we missed the first time through.
Any good riding weekend starts with a plan, and we had the benefit of Nolan Riding to show us around. We recommend you give them a shout to help you find your way around, and even get a little coaching while you're at it, however, here are a few places to give you a head start should you wish to tour southern Vancouver Island on your own:
Riding in Hartland (aka the Dump)
Swim in Durance Lake
Apres beers at Vancouver Island Brewing
Dinner at Fathom (at the Gran Pacific Hotel Victoria)
Stay in beautiful downtown Victoria at the Grand Pacific Hotel (they love mountain bikers!)
Ride at the Jordie Lunn Bike Park in Langford
Apres at Sooke Oceanside Brewing