Gravel Pimp – Extreme Recon

8 05 2012

The plan…

The plan was to ride our bikepacking rigs from Lake Cowichcan along the Trans Canada Trail to an abandoned mining town called Leech Town. This is shown on the map above in green. This would allow us to jump on the Galloping Goose Trail just below Leechtown and ride home 90% on gravel/dirt. Even more importantly this would give us a critical link in an ambitious Gravel Pimp route that would ride the whole of Vancouver Island from top to bottom. The problem with our little slice of paradise is that it’s a narrow island with mountains that funnel you along certain routes whether they are going the way you want or not. So an efficient dirt route from Lake Cowichan to Victoria would be key for further exportation northwards.

What actually happened – click for larger version…

Things did not go as planned and I am sad to say we ended the day with 170kms on the GPS and no dirt route home…=-( What I can say is we tried really hard, but were denied at every turn! Don’t let anyone tell you the life of a Gravel Pimp is all professional photographers, diamond studded water bottles and bikini clad ladies. It ain’t true!

Staying toasty by the fire…

Sharon was kind enough to drive Scott and I out to the Municipal Campground at Lake Cowichan. The place was almost empty this early in the year so we grabbed a spot by the lake and lit a fire to hang out at while we drank some beer and solved all the problems in the bike industry!

Scott’s narrow room with a view…

Scott has a luxurious 1 man tent that packs up small.

Garbage bag with a view…

My bivy sack packs small, but isn’t very luxurious.

Scott’s Rick Hunter 29er…

Scott always manages to pack more gear into less space on his bike and have it all look so tight.

My Scandal 29er…

I’ve got half the stuff and my bike looks like it’s bulging everywhere it can…=-)

Excited to start the pimping…

We rode into Lake Cowichan and found the local grocery store was open early. Surprisingly it had excellent espresso which got us off on the right foot. Next up was getting on the Trans Canada Trail [known as the Cowichan Valley Trail to the locals].

This is what we came for…

The riding was sublime. Gorgeous country to ride through – easy rail grade undulations and nobody else in sight.

Pumpkin Pimping…

Several wooden bridges along the way gave us great views of fast running creeks.

Warming up…

The trail varied from dirt to gravel and back with wide open sections and narrow overgrown bits.

oh yeah!

It was so nice we let our guards down and the smack-down that happened later in the day took us by surprise.

Adding a bit of air for faster rolling…

We were on the trail early and cranking along at a good clip. So good that it seemed sure I’d be home to watch the hockey game in the early afternoon.

Kinesol Trestle…

The Kinesol Trestle is an impressive structure. The highest wooden trestle in Canada apparently. I kind of wished we had spent more time there to photograph it, but some times I feel like a slacker and sometimes I feel like I was born to ride. On this day I had ants in my pants!

Cruising the Kinesol Trestle…

South of the trestle we had another pretty chill section of gravel to pimp. Chit chatting and laughing our way along the route little did we know of our impending doom.

Stopping for a snack…

Peperoni, gummy bears, granola bars, M&M’s…you name it – we ate it!

Scott admiring his handiwork…

As we reached the end of the Trans Canada Trail we had a short 15km section of route finding we needed to do so we could link up with the north end of the Galloping Goose Trail.


Back in Calgary Glenmore Reservoir is part of the city’s water supply. You can’t swim or let your dogs thrash around in it, but nobody cares if you walk, run or bike around it. So when we saw that the lake we needed to skirt on our connector was part of the city of Victoria’s water supply we figured they wouldn’t let you through with an oil tanker, but we didn’t think the would mind us pedalling through.

Scott assuming “the” position!

We were wrong. So wrong. Like Totally wrong. I figured even with a locked gate we could sneak past on bikes, but that was simply not going happen when we reach the DMZ.

Take no prisoners….

Scott wasn’t about to let a sniper in a guard tower and 2 dobermans stop him. He launched over the fence and asked me to throw him the Hunter. Before I could a black van rolls up and 6 masked security thugs jump out. Scott levelled 3 of them with his Porcelain Rocket Kung Fu, but the other 3 and the 2 dogs took him down in an EPIC bitch slap. At least when they threw him back over the fence I was able to catch him to stop further injury.

Happier times…

I didn’t have painkillers or a first aid kit so I treated Scott’s wound’s with gummy bears. They seemed to do the trick!

Time to work on Plan B…

We just didn’t have the firepower to break through the DMZ’s defensive perimeter. So we could either give up and go home or explore the missing map section and hope to find a route around the DMZ back to Leech Town. Battered and bleeding Scott would not give up so we headed north to loop around the DMZ [shown in pink on the maps above].

Logging road pimping…

This meant a significant amount of backtracking along the TCT, but the sun was shining and the skies were blue so our spirits were high. If you look at the map towards the top of this post showing our actual route the red line that heads south and stops is the start of the DMZ. The red line that heads west is our attempt to loop back around the DMZ, but as you can see there wasn’t much looping going on. Eventually after some brutally hot dusty climbing we realized that finding a way around was unlikely. If we had a topo map of the area our decision would have been more solid, but sadly I left that critical bit of the map book at home.

Lots of dead ends explored…

The valley we were in headed directly west towards Port Renfrew which would have got us home, but not without another night of camping. So it was time to turn back. Although that meant another round of backtracking it was beautiful country with very few encounters with other humans. Exactly what a Gravel Pimp craves.

It’s not hard to enjoy this…

As my trip computer on the GPS was climbing towards 100kms I was starting to realize that there was no way to make this a quick ride home.

Checking out a clear cut…

My bike was working well. I had added a longer stem for a stretched out position and the Porcelain Rocket bags allowed me to ride without having to accomodate my camping gear and food. So a few more hours in the saddle seemed like reasonable proposition.

Time for a soda break…

We hit 100kms as we reached pavement again. Our options now were either head for the Mill Bay Ferry and then ride down the quiet west side of the Sannich Peninsula or climb the heights of the Malahat with traffic roaring all around us and next to no shoulder.


We went with the ferry option as Plan C. On our way we stopped for a cold soda break. I gapped that the seasons were changing so my only top was a long sleeve wool zip neck. That would have been great 2 weeks ago, but on this hot day I was baking. Hence a cold sugary soda made me very happy.

Why is Scott angry?

Reaching the ferry should have been a happy time for us. We’d get a well deserved rest and the ride home along the far shore was topographically unchallenging.


The fine print can be a bitch…

Neither Scott or I can be called rich, but we can afford the $9.20 ferry ride from Mill Bay to Brentwood Bay. Of course having spent our last $20 cash for coffee and food we only had credit cards and bank cards. No cash and after being beaten up at the DMZ Scott wouldn’t let me pimp him out to ferry passengers for a free ride.

So that left the Malahat. **sigh**

A little ‘schwacking…

To get to the Malahat we had to grind up a long hot steep climb from the ferry terminal and then bushwhack cross country  so we could jump a concrete barrier.

Not paradise for cyclists…

All that sweat and tears got us onto a busy 4 lane highway with gnarly shoulders. The photo above is the best part and far better than most of it. Not to mention if you look at the elevation profile on the map near the top of this post that last big ass hump is what awaited us.

Did I mention it was hot and we were riding during rush hour?


The only good part of the Malahat was looking over and seeing some ice cold water running down the rocks next to me. I stopped and poured handful after handful of water over my head. Washed my face and gobbled everything I could find in my bar bag.

That got me psyched for the last push over the top and the uber narrow shoulder on the high speed descent down the other side.

A Gravel Pimp happy to be home…=-)

At the bottom of the Malahat we stopped for another cold soda and a couple donuts at Tim Horton’s. That gave us the energy to crank back down the Galloping Goose to home.

Ride Stats:

  • 170kms ridden [173kms for Scott who rode home from my place]
  • Ride Time 12:15hrs
  • Stopped Time 3:28hrs
  • Avg speed 19.4kph

On the plus side we had an epic ride with great scenery and no traffic….until the Malahat! On the negative side we haven’t found a good gravel/dirt rout from up island back to Victoria.

Sharon confirming my loaded bike was indeed heavy…

A recon mission is only a failure if you don’t gather new info to plan future operations. By that standard we succeeded. We confirmed the DMZ presents an impassable obstacle and we confirmed that a reroute around isn’t’ straight forward. We also found out that if you want to ride the Mill Bay Ferry you better bring cash!

We still need a verified dirt route to Victoria so…

  • we could ride bikes north from the Galloping Goose to Leech Town and try to recon a route to the active logging road we were on. Going from less used to more used routes is always easier than the reverse.
  • we could continue down the active logging road we were on towards Port Renfrew and then ride back to Victoria. That will work, but it’s long-cut not a shortcut home!….;)
  • I may try riding the logging road on my dualsport motorcycle checking out every turn off that might go where we need to go. There were a few low probability routes we didn’t explore due the the climbing req’d. I don’t mind twisting the throttle for a few hours even if the chances of success are slim.

Until next time – live large and prosper!

Why I do [don’t] read your blog?

8 05 2012

Where are the pictures????

I’m pretty picky when it comes to the blogs I read. There are a ton of bad ones out there, but also quite a decent number of good ones. I won’t name any in particular since I don’t want ninjas attacking me in my sleep!

Here is what I like in a blog:

  • topics I am interested in
  • minimum of a photo with every post ideally lots of photos
  • high quality photos
  • decent writing
  • reasonable spelling [I’m not perfect – you don’t have to be, but quick isn’t spelled kwik!!]
  • blog template/layout/colours that are comprehensible and easily readable
  • regular updates [less than once a week and I lose interest]
  • on going stories/topics I can follow

Here is what turns me off:

  • no photos = no reading on my part
  • few and/poor photos = less reading and maybe I’ll stop visiting
  • terrible spelling and poor writing = I’ll give up trying to understand what you are on about
  • post your heart rate/power meter data frequently and my eyes glaze over
  • post endlessly about trips and bike builds you are planning, but never complete either and I lose interest
  • post less than 1/week and I stop coming by
  • post erroneous info regularly

The key thing for me in a blog is that I get what I expect to get from it. I can accept infrequent updates if you are on a tour in a remote area. I can accept mediocre photos from a someone on a great tour who is able to write well. What I can’t deal with is randomly posted content that is never what I expect to see when I expect to see it.

As a blog author it’s very important to set the reader’s expectations to match what you are going to deliver.

Let me leave you with one tip to make your blog better [something that I learned the hard way] – post about things you have done – not things you hope to do. Especially if looking back you aren’t scoring about 90% on achieving your goals/projects. We have all read blogs that go on endlessly for months about gear selection, route planning, etc… for some major bike expedition that fails after the first week because they didn’t train or prepare well in real life – despite spending so much time on the blog. It’s lame, but not as lame as when the same person starts blogging about racing the GDR next year and spends a year going on about that only to fail to start or fail after day 3.