I’m heading south on a jet plan Sunday so I’m trying to jam pack as much dirt riding as I can between finishing up my packing and other errands that need doing. Yesterday I twisted A-Man’s arm and he agreed to go out to Sooke BC with me for a ride. The day started off with steady rain in the AM, but like so many similar days out on the South Shore of Vancouver Island once we gave it a couple hours the water stopped and it was a great day to ride. Our initial thought was a 3hr XC ride on Terra Nova Trail between Victoria and Sooke, but we changed targets and drove all the way out to Sooke to check out the trails at Harbourview. We stopped in at Sooke Mountain Cycle and chatted with owner and all mountain/DH guru – Lorien for a spell. Lorien is one of these guys that’s forgotten more about mountain biking than you know. He’s also super nice and happy to share his knowledge with other riders. If you are going to ride in the Sooke BC area stop in at Sooke Mountain Cycle and get the South Shore 411 from him. After marking up our Harbouview map with a nice set of trails Aaron scored a slick jersey and I grabbed a Kenda Excavator 26″ tire for the Nomad. Lorien’s suggestion of running winter tires and summer tires made a lot of sense so I’ll probably save the Specialized Chunder Control rubber for May and use something with a more grippy open tread pattern during the moist winter riding season.
To get to the top of Harbourview you spin up a steepish fire road for 60mins and then hike a bike to the Ranger Station at the very top before bombing down the trails.
For a bike with 6″+ of travel at either end my SC Nomad handles long climbs just fine. My MTBing fitness is starting to kick in so I never left the middle ring all ride which means a reasonable pace on the climbs.
What was so sad about this part of the ride [in retrospect] was that we tried really hard to follow Lorien’s directions. We even rode uphill an extra kilometre to reach the washed out section of the fire road so we could backtrack to the correct trail up to the top. With that kind of navigational diligence how could we go wrong?
I didn’t mind the fire road grind, but I was glad when it was over and singletrack awaited.
So we started up the narrowing trail.
And the trail indeed got narrow and sketchy. Little did we know this would be the easy part of the ride.
We were riding [mostly] and smiling. New terrain is always fun and we figured the Grade A Top Choice trails were just around the corner.
It was around this point that we lost the plot. I mean clearly someone had come this way so it wasn’t total crazy talk, but by the time we were well and truly committed to our path it was clear that nobody had biked this trail in a year or two. In our defense the other option was to push up a rocky creek-bed so the way we choose made some sort of sense.
Now we aren’t idiots – well not total idiots anyways. The overgrown vegetation and lack of tire wear made it clear this was not the trail we wanted to be on. However, it’s a small mountain and somebody had been this way as evidenced by some old flagging tape and the odd chainring bite into a fallen log. So our assumption was if we followed this old trail to the top we’d find the Ranger Station and reorient ourselves. It was a reasonable plan.
And although we weren’t where we had wanted to be the scenery was spectacular, we were riding our bikes [when we weren't carrying them!] and it’s not like a ride starting just after lunch could end up with us lost in the rainforest at night without lights…could it?
With all the recon and hike a bike I’m glad I ride in walkable shoes with sticky climbing rubber soles. I don’t know how A-Man and P-Rock do it in plastic SPD shoes.
When we finally made it to the top we were a bit disappointed to see no signs of life or fresh mountain bike tracks. It’s possible we weren’t even at the top of the right mountain at this point, but we still clung to the hope of reconnecting with the main Harbourview trails. I mean there is a freaking fire road down the middle of the trail system so all we have to do is keep riding until we cross it and then recalibrate – right?
As we descended the mountain on the most well used trail we could find I started to understand that we had gone quite far astray from our planned route. I also started to appreciate that we might well not get back on track before sunset at ~4pm. What could we do other than head downhill staying on a path men had once trodden or ridden and hope to hit civilization again at some point?
To keep myself amused I started naming the various bits of trail we were riding:
As it got darker and the possibility of trying to ride out of the forest in the dark without bike lights, no [useful] map, no compass and no iPhone/GPS I renamed all of the sections to Terror-track!
Then we found a sign. Awesome! The name on the sign was even on our map. What a relief! I wasn’t going to have to kill and eat Aaron to survive…;-) In theory we should have been able to use our map to ride back to the main Harbourview fire road and be back at the car in 15 minutes. Too bad that’s not what happened.
On our map Quimper should have been a main trail back to the fire road, but instead it ended. Now consider the level of trail we had just ridden for a hour+ so when I say it ended I mean there was no sign of it at all. Our choices were slog down a creek or ride a branch trail that was not on our map. We figured it was best to stay on trails with signs so our families could at least find out bodies and get some closure!!
Some more gnarly lightly used trail riding we came to an old bridge. That was a good sign, but it looked like it hadn’t been used in a while and the blow down trees across the trail backed this up. Still it was an indication of human activity. As we rolled along we came to a lake. There were two lakes on our Harbourview Trail Map so we assumed we could simply recalibrate and hit the fire road. Confusingly the Lake we found was called Glinz Lake and that wasn’t on our map. A bit further on we found a shuttered Boy Scouts facility called Camp Thunderbird. That led to a road which we bombed downhill at Mach 4 to the highway which we cranked at Mach 2 to get back to the car.
Looking at the map above we should have been riding trails on the left and right of Harbourview Road. Instead we ended up way to the east riding to Glinz Lake and bombing Glinz Lake Road to Highway 14 and then back up Harbourview Road to the car. We made it just as it was getting dark. Tired, wet and dirty, but happy with our Terror-track ride…=-) Lorien suggested we join the Sooke Bike Club – that sounds like a good idea. We could use some local guides to keep us on track! Even though we didn’t go where we had intended we got a taste of the terrain in the Sooke area and we’ll be back for another assault on Harbourview.