Hills and Mermaids
Pender Island was the last missing piece of the puzzle. Over the years, we have visited and biked on every single Southern Gulf Island but I was deferring a visit to Pender as all I have heard about it was “Hills. BIG hills!”
Well, it always starts at a BC Ferries terminal. Here Peter is trying to fit three bicycle on a 2-bike rack, completely consumed by the task, while our friend Keith looks on and hopes for the best. He has no idea that he is about to experience a completely new meaning of off-road bike touring 😉
After arriving at Otter Bay on Pender island, the first 3 km were easy and landed us at a farmer’s market by the community centre within 15 minutes. Aside from a few tables manned by island hippies selling tchotchkes we found a really nice selection of homemade goodies such as sausages by a lamb lady and very yummy meat pies by Pierre’s Fine Food Works . Here Peter also bought and devoured the best pulled pork sandwich of his life (his own words).
After the farmer’s market the real workout begins – the road is up and down, but mostly up, with the steepest section the last 2 km before the descent to Shingle Bay. And what a descent! After the approach climb the road turns into a trail (wide and well compacted) but so steep that I had to get off my bike and decided to walk it downhill instead.
But it is a relatively small prize to pay for being able to camp in an orchard. That’s right – Shingle Bay used to be a fish processing settlement, complete with a row of apple trees that still bear the fruit, now enjoyed by a family of deer who are not bothered a bit by the presence of about 20 campers.
With the explosion of masses craving outdoor experience during Covid times, make sure to reserve a spot at Shingle Bay before leaving home: Gulf Island National Park Reserve camping.
Apart from the orchard factor Shingle Bay is an extremely pretty campsite, made sweeter by the fact that it is NOT accessible by car and with the distance/uphill to and from the car park considerable enough to keep partying yahoos away. So we set up camp under the apple trees and in a fine company of a cycling family with a cute toddler and a kayaker or two.
It clouded over and the forecast tells us some rain is coming but we have enough time to go for a little stroll to the beach (pebbles, clean, shallow water, driftwood – perfect) and walk over to the small outlying islands. Disclaimer – the islands are “Authorized Access Only” as they shelter an important ecosystem of grasses and a couple of garry oaks but at low tide you will be able to clamber over the rocks that on the perimeter of the islands.
The disadvantage of the Shingle Bay campsite – one which we learned the hard way – is that it does not have fresh water. That’s right, make sure you bring all the water you need with you. We didn’t know that so at 4 pm we were in a serious pickle as each of us only had about a quart of water left, definitely not enough to cook dinner, make breakfast and have for the day.
So off we went in a mad search of drinking water. Now, this may sound elementary in a populated place but on a small island that does not have running streams and where steep hills separate you from the nearest populated area this became a serious problem fast.
On his digital map Peter scouted a shortcut from Shingle Bay to some houses over Roe Lake trail. This is where Peter’s favourite quote “the shortcut was longer but tougher” came to have its day. The “trail” from Roe Lake to the houses was steep as hell as covered in leaves so riding our bikes was completely out of question. Walking my bike downhill I even had to apply brakes to steady myself. Quite a procession it was. Full credit to our friend Keith for sticking with us and not letting up a single swear word.
On “the other side” we were able to mooch some water off a lady in a lonely house. She pointed us towards a garden hose and we were able to refill to our heart’s content.
On the way back we were able to find another “shortcut” which was a real one 🙂 for a change and which got us back to Shingle Bay without having to climb over that bloody Roe Lake hill.
Pender Island are actually two islands separated by just a narrow neck of water, bridged over with a wooden vehicle bridge. Once on the south side, get ready for more hills. Now, let me get this message clearly across without trying to discourage anyone – I have an all-road bike that is properly geared for climbing hills. And I don’t mind biking hills, life has taught me that each uphill is eventually followed by a downhill – but Pender Island has some serious hills, steep grades, many of them. So don’t be surprised (and visit anyway ;-))
After all the biking effort, arriving at Gowland Point on the eastern tip of South Pender Island, just in time for a picnic lunch on fine pebbles of a fine beach just cannot be beat. The views are awesome and it made it all so worth it. Make more time here to linger and walk about the lighthouse around the corner. Extend your walk into Brooks Point Regional Park adjacent to the lighthouse for a nice stroll along the cliffs on the shoreline.
I cannot help but include another photo taken at Brooks Point Regional Park that involves six pretty girls and our goofy friend Keith. It’s a bit of a story to tell but let’s just leave it at the following photo caption: “Six aquabelles preparing to jump off a cliff and into a bed of bull kelp below, under a watchful eye of their coach, Mrs. K.”