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Vancouver to San Francisco by bike. Days 1-5

Trip Planning

A few years ago a friend mentioned he would like to ride from Vancouver to San Francisco. He has since moved to SF so I figured what better way to visit than to ride my bike! Before the trip I had a quick two day trip to the Sunshine Coast, the maximum length of a single day ride was around 50km, my total overnight bike touring distance before the trip sits at 150km. I am relatively young and in good health so I assumed I could get away with this trip without any specific training. I would recommend selecting a suitable bike and getting some long rides in to ensure the setup is good for your body type, I borrowed a bike from a friend, for which I am grateful, as my road bike has an overly aggressive riding position which is not suitable for long touring rides.

My main resource was Bicycling The Pacific Coast: A Complete Route Guide, Canada to Mexico“Bicycling The Pacific Coast”, copies can be ordered through Indigo using the link to the left – Indigo are an affiliate so ordering through this site helps with costs and is appreciated. Oregon has a great coastal bike path map detailing campgrounds, showers and other places of interest, I have uploaded a copy here. Other resources I used include :-

Washinton State DOT – Great resource for general information and a useful State wide cycling map.
Oregon State DOT – Good resource for cycling in Oregon.
California State DOT– Department of Transport for CA, includes links to bike maps.
CalBike – Cycling information for California, includes links to bike maps.

Remember to check all of the resources above for road closures and other important information regarding the areas you may be riding in. Finally, any questions then drop me an email, I am happy to provide guidance where I can. [email protected]

Day 1 – North Vancouver to Chemainus. 127km

Already a day late according to my rough plan, yet I am running around trying to get travel insurance, renew my car insurance, clean my apartment and do the move out inspection, finish packing my storage locker and plan my route for the day. It turns 14:00 before I have hooked up the trailer, incidentally this will be the trailer test and if it doesn’t work then I go to plan B…sit down and come up with a plan.

I set off, riding down 12th Street with a wobble but it doesn’t take long for me to hit my stride. The trailer pushes me faster down the hills and then pulls me back when I am trying to pedal up the hills. I quickly figure that cycling whilst standing is not good with a trailer with the bike movement and the additional stress on the knees. Riding with the trailer is half fun and half chore, the width is okay and visibility is good with a flag at the rear so motorists give you a wider berth, it can be challenging maneuvering around objects and tight corners but that shouldn’t be required too much.

Part of my poorly planned plan was to find a campsite from the ferry, that plan soon changed as I got the non-wifi ferry and the information leaflets were not overly helpful. I scanned over the backroad maps book in the ferry store and decided just to ride and keep heading south until I find a place to stay. During disembarkment from the ferry I bump into Cathy who I had been chatting to at Horseshoe Bay, I wasn’t expecting to follow her however our paths kept crossing and I am very thankful for her help and information which led me on a better route out of Nanaimo and most of the way to Ladysmith where we parted ways.

With the sun sinking I started to look out for accommodation, asking at the coffee shop and checking on the Internet before finding Bald Eagle campground. I still had a fair way to ride, hoping I hadn’t missed it I kept my legs spinning and turned up at a closed office just before 21:00. There was no way I was going anywhere else so I called the campsite number, left a message to let them know I was setting up and then I picked a random site. I had a well deserved but quick shower then quickly fell off to sleep by 22:30.

Day 2 – Chemainus to Victoria. 87km

Up early and I packed all the gear, leaving the campsite at 8:30. I stopped for coffee in the small port town of Crofton until 10:50 as the 9:30 sailing is only for dangerous cargo. I would have sailed but needed a dangerous cargo sign, apparently I just don’t look dangerous.

Sitting at the coffee shop I thought about the Island life, the ferries carrying trucks with supplies, people with British accents who have now become part of the friendly, laidback community, the regulars who came and went and the owner knew the requirements of each customer. Still I think it’s a little too slow for me to stay too long.

After cruising on the ferry to Saltspring island and talking to various travellers about my destination and how I may be crazy, I rode into Ganges. Just enough time to grab some lunch and check the next ferry schedule before I have to head off again, missing the ferry would involve another 2 hour wait so I slowly rode off up the steep hill getting to the terminal with 30 plus minutes to spare, so the only thing to do now is to sit in the sun and chill out, although there is a bit of a stiff breeze coming inshore.

Another ferry ride, possibly with some fellow bike tourers, although I lost track of them so i have no idea where they are headed, maybe I will bump into them again. My next decision was to stay at McDonald Campground or go to Victoria. I Rode past McDonald campground thinking I would be able to make Port Angeles. It was to be an expensive mistake, the ferries have been good however it still takes a lot of time to make sure you are at the terminal early enough, then waiting to board, then sitting there for 30 minutes or so before waiting to disembark, add all the time up and you use a day before you realize where the time has gone. It’s not that I missed the ferry but the 90 minute crossing would leave me in a strange town at dusk with the only known close accommodation possibly closed. I purchased my ticket then umm’d and ahhh’d about it until I went to tourist information and asked about campsites and cheap hotels that are bike friendly. The closest campground was 10km in the wrong direction so I went with the 2km ride to Accent Inn, thinking I would come back into town to enjoy Victoria. After my shower I realized I wouldn’t be back downtown instead choosing to leverage the free wifi, watching Futurama and reading the guidebook.

Reading the book didn’t help, it just made me think I was crazy…maybe a few of my friends were right but on the flip side are the others who would do the same and it could be fun…maybe.

Day 3 – Victoria to Fairholm Campground, WA. 80km

What a good nights sleep, it’s only been 3 days but I needed that. I have covered around 250km I think but need to verify on the gps, I will also have elevation profiles and speed etc. A late start today as the ferry is at 10:30 so I made oatmeal in the percolator and took a leisurely ride down the bike friendly Victoria streets, I ate my last fresh fruit at the parliament building, US customs don’t like visitors with fresh fruit or vegetables even if they did originate in California. Customs was a breeze, I still have all my food, rice noodles, tuna, chocolate peanut butter and my favorite homemade gluten/dairy free granola.

Port Angeles is bigger than I expected with the typical small town west coast style. I wasn’t really up for this ride, probably as I spent the ferry trip snoring my head of and probably dribbling at the same time. This bike trip is now officially my longest ever, my previous one consisted of riding for a day and staying next to the beach for three nights before heading home. Useless information but the beginning of an excuse should I need one to explain why I only lasted a few days on this trip. Things don’t improve as I have to get my rain coat out 🙁

During the last few hours of this ride there has been a distinct lack of food. I managed to find a roadside campsite cum gas station cum grocery……I think they pretty much do everything except I could not find any fresh fruit or vegetables. Low blood sugar/hunger make things feel worse than they are, I learnt on my Spanish pilgrimage to eat small meals but often, even just an apple or orange once an hour keeps your body and mind in a level state. Peering out of the gas station window the rain seemed to be easing so I ventured out, with my new blood sugar level I was surprisingly upbeat while I put on my jacket, goretex pants and my waterproof booties (covers for my shoes to keep my feet dry). The ride was a lot easier as I had climbed most of the elevation gain and the benefit of the wet weather gear was that I had to stop to remove it, at the same time grabbing a couple of photos with my little used DSLR.

I arrived at Fairholm(e) campground at 16:30, I setup camp and took a quick look over the bike which had fallen over in the wind during the ferry crossing and I guess the front wheel in the rack took a little pain but nothing major. My first touring buddy showed up too, a guy from Berlin maybe called something beginning with D, I usually forget names straight away and then remember later, hopefully I remember by the morning when I will bump into him at breakfast time.

Time for a few more photos, a walk around the site and then crashing into my sleeping bag, preparing for a chilly but not too cold night.

Day 4 – Fairholm Campground to Kalaloch Campground. 105km

I have the wind in my face, it’s supposed to blow you down the coast. So far it’s been more inland riding and the wind has come from all directions, it can slow you down by 50%, a 20 to 25 mph descent can become 10 to 12 mph and the ascents really start to suck coming in around 5 or 6 mph according to my GPS.

“Long ride, although I can shorten it to stay at a more remote site, or I may lengthen it to stay at a more remote site, depends on my legs and water supply and fog suppy….high fog or low water will mean I stay at the main campsite.”. I wrote that last night and today it was a clear day but I was lacking on the water front and when I came across the campsite with running water and washrooms I crumbled. This site still does not have showers and last night was a no shower night and so is tomorrow. Fingers crossed it’s warm enough to go in the lake otherwise no one will talk to me, it’s pretty sweaty for 6 hours of riding.

I managed to get up fairly early, about an hour before my buddy next door, left him behind and he was going to detour into part of the rain forest, Im just looking forward to the sun and beach. The day started overcast and brightened up by 14:00, I cleared the first 30 miles before lunch, found some wifi, took some photos, stopped at Ruby beach and still managed to arrive at Kalaloch campground at 16:30. The sign said full but it never hurts to ask and I got a $9 site, probably the cheapest night of the trip unless I end up sleeping on the side of the road.

What to do after riding 60 miles? I know walk another few miles around the site, up the beach, up to the store, over to the closed information centre and then back up the beach. I am going to try and get a partial sunset at the beach later, unless I fall asleep. Just the 30 miles tomorrow, I have stocked up on fruit and vegetables so should be in site just after lunch ready to hike the trails and swim in the lake.

Day 5 – Kalaloch Campground to Lake Quinault. 55km

The cloud cover has come in so I will not be watching the sunset tonight, I did manage to get a swim in, lucky really as I was pretty smelly and no showers again tonight. Tomorrow is shower day, Im looking forward to a very hot and long shower.

Quick 30 mile ride today, in at the site by 11:30ish after I found the site that the book recommends is now closed. The extra miles increased today’s total by 5, but 2 miles of those were downhill and I have to go back up first thing tomorrow….early start hopefully as I have 60 miles to cover tomorrow and anything short could mean no shower.

After plucking up the courage to go in the frigid lake and pretty much wash rather than swim I figured I should stretch my legs and walked to the village consisting of a closed shop, a ranger station and a large tourist lodge. There is a nature trail and a few things to see, some look too far away and being slightly cynical I figured they wouldn’t live up to much so I took a 4 mile loop on top of the 2 or 3 to and from the village. Just your typical rainforest with huge cedar trees ;-), still very similar to BC but that changes further south.

Haven’t seen any other cyclists aside from the rider from Berlin. The two routes join up after tomorrow so maybe I will see some fellow tourers. It’s probably a good thing anyway as it’s July 4th weekend so everything is busy or overpriced, like today’s campsite, over twice as much as last night and the facilities are not that great.

You can read Part 2 here, Part 3 here, Part 4 here and the Final part here

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