I spent a lot of time last year doing recon on a dirt route from Lake Cowichan to Victoria. With the Galloping Goose MUP mostly dirt from Sooke Potholes Park to Victoria it seemed straightforward to just find a route from Lake Cowichan to the potholes. As it turned out that wasn’t so easy after all.
At first it looked simple to run down the Trans Canada Trail [TCT] and along the east side of Sooke Lake down to Leehtown and then hop on the Goose MUP to Sooke Potholes Park and onwards to Victoria. The trouble was Victoria takes its water-supply very very seriously and has blocked off any access through the area we wanted to ride with gates, fences and guards. Click on the map above to read what happened.
We tried riding the E&N Railway corridor from Shawnigan Lake To Victoria which is quite a bit to the east of our previous route. It worked, but riding on the tracks was pretty brutal so I couldn’t really recommend it as a bikepacking route. Not to mention it was almost too easy with no real grades and such a straight shot to Victoria. The Gov’t keeps threatening to reactivate the rail service along this line, but so far it hasn’t happened. It you don’t mind getting bounced around a lot and want to check it out it’s a viable option.
Not to be deterred we returned to Sooke Lake area and tried to go to the west of the Sooke Lake drainage. Both my print maps and electronic maps showed logging roads leaving the Leechtown area and heading west then north to join up with roads around the Koosilah Provincial Park. Sadly these roads were fictional. They exist only as a cartographer’s dream!
About this time I realized that riding a bicycle out to Leechtown and back for every route recon was taking up too much time and frankly riding the Goose MUP so many times was getting boring. So I broke out the KLR dualsport motorcycle. I plotted another route uphill out of Leechtown that looked promising on the map [pink line above], but I only got as far as the burgundy line on the lower right before I hit a water-supply gate and the rest of the mapped roads stopped existing.
Next time out I burned a whole day on the motorcycle going in and out of various logging roads as I kept running into more locked gates or dead ends. I managed a loop from Victoria out to Port Renfrew then up to Lake Cowichan before heading back home. The good news is it was a fun day on the moto and I learned a lot about the local logging road network. The bad news is I still didn’t have a route that went all the way through, but I had narrowed down the options enough I thought it was time to take another chance with the bicycle.
With a lot of recon done I figured one of the two connectors shown above in pink and green would work. Obviously I’d rather ride the shorter pink route. Especially because the green route features a ton of altitude loss as you head south and a bunch of fresh climbing as you head back north on top of triple the mileage. Locked logging gates stop me on my motorcycle so it was time to start pedalling again to finish the route off.
This past weekend I headed out from Lake Cowichan and rode my bicycle down the TCT to the Kinesol Trestle and past the Koosilah Provincial Park. I headed up into the mountains on the Kapur Main logging Rd and connected with the West Jordan Main logging road. That took me to the [supposed] junction of the Butler Main logging road and the Leech Main logging road, but once again the Leech Main [the pink short cut in the map 2 above] doesn’t actually exist on the ground. So I rode south on Butler Main dropping altitude fast and connected with Graveyard Main to head north again to Leechtown. I knew I would make it at this point, but the landscape had changed at Leechtown since my last visit with logging equipment gone, vegetation grown and creeks running hard with snowmelt. I had to poke around a bit until I found the bushwhack across the Sooke River to the Goose MUP. Once I rolled up to the familiar red shelter I’ve slept in a bunch of times I was really happy to finally put that mission down as a success in the books.
The GPS says it’s 175kms from Lake Cowichan to Victoria along my route. Those numbers don’t sound impressive, but when I look back at all the time I spent pouring over maps, riding my motorcycle and pedalling my bike it was quite a job to figure this route out. I had decent maps and a bunch of dirt roads available for me to use. I didn’t have to do one lick of trail building or mapping to find this route. So I am even more impressed with all the trails I’ve ridden in the past and the effort the folks have put into finding them or building them. Thanks!
Now that Phase 1 of the Vancouver Island Bikepacking Route is done I’ve got plans for Phase 2. The next part of the adventure is to map a route from Cumberland/Comox down to Lake Cowichan. The green segment on the map above goes from Port Alberni to Lake Cowichan and I’ve been down all those roads in my truck so I know they are a sure thing. The cyan segment at the top of the map goes from Cumberland to Port Alberni. It looks pretty straightforward, but I’ve said that before! I’ll do an initial run with my motorcycle this spring to confirm the route from Cumberland to PA works and is a decent one to ride. Then I’ll come back with my bicycle to enjoy it by pedal power.
My goal for 2013 is to get that far.
You can see from the map above that Phases 1 & 2 get me a little better than halfway up Vancouver Island. I’d like to go all the way to the top on dirt, but my knowledge of the north island is limited and it will take 3-4hrs just to get to the bottom of that area on my motorcycle so there will be some serious time involved in that part of the recon. I’d like to get at least one moto recon session in the books for 2013 so I have a lay of the land in my head to help me situated data I glean from maps.
I’ll get a trip report for the latest ride posted later this week or next – here are the photos for now. I’m excited for another great year on the bike with lots of new roads and trails explored.
Keep those wheels rolling Gravel Pimps of the world!