JQ commented on my last Gravel Pimp Recon post that the E&N Railway might be rideable from the south end of Shawinigan Lake down into Victoria. If so it would be the most direct non-paved route you could ride so it seemed well worth a look.
The E&N Railway line runs from Victoria to Nanimo and is currently not being used. There is some talk of reviving it, but the funding issues between Via Rail and the Provincial Government have not been resolved.
Sharon has been keen to get some Gravel Pimping done, but she only has weekends off so this is the first time a recon mission and her time off coincided. I had reservations about taking her on this ride as I suspected it wouldn’t be the most pleasant one we’ve done, but in the end I figured the spirit of adventure would make up for some of the challenges on this ride. Sharon and I rode our Pugsleys and Scott rode his Jones. So it was a full-fat and semi-fat recon…
We started in the north where the E&N tracks meet Stebbing Road just off Shawinigan Lake Road. The thought was that the gentle down grade into Victoria would make up for some of the hassle of riding on the tracks. The elevation drop is ~300m and is a consistent rail grade so you don’t notice it too much, but I am sure it helped us along the ride.
The riding itself was fairly brutal. Don’t let these photos fool you. I wasn’t in the mood to whip out the camera when I was been beaten up by the non-stop WHOMP WHOMP WHOMP of the tracks. We rode on the edge of the tracks when possible, but that was probably less than 40% of the time and often there was only a 4″ sloped gravel/dirt margin to ride. So you had to stay very steady or end up sliding down the slope into the ditch. Something I did more than a few times.
Sharon is new to the Pugsley and less confident about her riding skills so she stayed on the tracks more than I did to avoid the nerve-wracking riding on the edge and the inevitable tumbles down to the ditch. I felt really bad for her as she pounded down the tracks, but there wasn’t much I could do other than be encouraging. We aired down our fat tires as much as possible, but the reality is that they don’t help all that much in this situation. Having said that I’m really glad I wasn’t on a rigid MTB with 2″ tires.
Feel the bump! This was 5 out of 10 in terms of the worst bumpy sections.
The scenery is nice along the route with a remote feel that is welcome especially when you consider the tracks run fairly close to the major island highway. It’s mostly closed in with vegetation on both sides, but occasionally the trees on the left disappear and you get some lovely views of the Sannich Peninsula.
Of course you spend a lot of time looking down and concentrating on not crashing so you don’t get to enjoy the views quite the way you might hope to.
The railway lines looked to be in great shape other than the overgrown vegetation that obscured the track in spots.
Don’t let my lack of enthusiasm for bumping down the tracks make it sound like we had no fun. The adventure of exploring a new part of our island was keeping us stoked. Plus we figured the constant WHOMP WHOMP WHOMP action had to be firming up our butts making us hotter than ever! Hahahaha
I refused to judge Scott and Sharon’s “who has the better butt?” competition.
It wouldn’t be a recon mission without encountering the red gates of doom blocking us from entering the Victoria Watersupply Area aka the DMZ. Thankfully this time they were perpendicular to our route and we weren’t forced to find a way around.
We found one tunnel along the route.
The tunnel was short so no lights were needed.
There were 2 bridges on the ride.
I’m not sure how high they were, but it looked like a long long long way down!
After the first 10K I don’t think anyone was excited for more riding on the tracks and we started looking for a convenient exit.
Rest breaks were not for our lungs or legs – they were to give our butts some non-pounding time.
The E&N kept us riding for something like 17 or 18kms before finally providing an exit onto paved roads in Langford.
The E&N’s few KMs provided some mud to keep us on our toes.
As well as some of the worst of the bumpy track sections, but also some of the nicest margin riding.
I managed to ride over a wasp nest and got stung a couple times. That was painful, but it did take my mind of the bumpiness of the tracks for a while
A few KMs on Goldstream Ave took us to the Galloping Goose Trail and on to Victoria. If you were enough of a glutton for punishment you could ride the E&N all the way into downtown Victoria – which is ~34kms.
On the plus side you can ride the E&N Railway and it does connect the south end of the Trans Canada Trail [TCT] to Victoria. On the downside it’s not a fun ride. In fact I would only recommend it as a hike – probably quite a nice one actually! If you want to ride the E&N just for kicks once go for it, but I doubt you’ll go back for a second helping. We rode unloaded bikes with big soft tires and it was okay. Fully loaded touring bikes [racks & panniers] would struggle and would probably have to be walked most of the time. I could coax my bikepacking rig down the E&N, but I wouldn’t want to. Although this is the shortest most convenient non-paved route between the TCT and Victoria I think the longer logging road routes to the west are a much better choice for enjoyable riding.
I’m glad we took the time to explore the E&N and see what’s what, but I won’t be going back on a bicycle!