My First Multi-Day Bike Trip

Sun 27 November 2016 by Tom Lightfoot

For my first posting about cycling, I thought I'd go back to the Thanksgiving weekend of 2013 when I did my very first multi-day cycle trip from Nanaimo to Comox and back again

I had been meaning to try cycle touring for years. I started cycle commuting in 2003 and had done lots of day trips but had yet to try a multi-day trip to a specific destination. I had also heard that Vancouver Island was a great place to try cycle touring.

The opportunity presented itself in 2013 as the Thanksgiving weekend approached. It's always a good weekend to visit the family in Courtenay/Comox but Helen wanted to stay at home this time.

The Plan

It is 120km from the ferry terminal in Nanaimo to my parent's place in Comox. At the time I had done 70km in a single day. I felt I could do up to 90km in a day but 120 was out of the question; I would have to take two days riding up and another two days riding down, finding a hotel in the middle.

Qualicum Beach is right in the middle of the trip with lots of hotel options. On the evening before heading out, I booked the last bookable room at the Ocean Crest Motel in Qualicum Beach. Just in the nick of time, apparently.

Saturday - Nanaimo to Qualicum Beach

On the Saturday morning, Helen gave me and my bike a ride to the ferry terminal. The first joy of the trip came in riding on to an empty car deck with a few other bicycles. First on board; such a treat!

The next joy was being one of the first people to get off the ferry. I made it to the first traffic light before any of the cars caught up to me. I was finally on my first bicycle tour.

The beauty of Nanaimo is that once you've gone a block past that first traffic light, it is possible to take quiet roads up to the lower highway and once there, there is a paved bicycle/foot path along the old railroad tracks. That path runs all the way up to Mostar Road. From there it's a quick jog over to the inland highway to another bicycle path that runs all the way to Woodgrove Centre. Another bicycle path heads shorewards to Lantzville Road. I was able to avoid the highway all the way to the Nanoose Bay area. Once on the highway, the shoulder was nice and wide but the sound and feeling of semi-trucks wizzing by at over 100km/h was pretty terrifying. I was glad to turn off the highway again at Northwest Bay Road. Northwest Bay Road is windy and hilly but at least it is quiet.

I re-joined the highway at the south end of Parksville. Most of the traffic had already split off on the new inland highway and I was on the quieter old highway. That's where I stopped for lunch at Serious Coffee.

I stayed on the highway the rest of the way to Qualicum Beach for the most part, taking sightseeing stops at the beach in Parksville, French Creek and Qualicum Beach itself. I made it to my motel pleasantly tired and with daylight to spare. The motel was also much less booked up than I had been lead to believe online. The parking lot was practically empty.

My parents drove down to Qualicum Beach to have dinner with me. It was a slight defeat to the 'green' aspect of cycle touring but it was nice to have the evening conversation. They also set me up with breakfast for the next day.

Sunday - Qualicum Beach to Comox

The next day was clear but frosty. I got to warm up by climbing the hill out of Qualicum Beach. I could hear sea lions barking way down at the beach.

The plan for the day was to meet up with my brother Dennis in Buckley Bay. He was riding down as I was riding up and after meeting, we would ride in to Comox together and we'd all have Thanksgiving dinner that evening. I was therefore on a schedule but I made time for sightseeing stops at Qualicum Bay and Fanny Bay where there was a big haulout spot for sea lions.

Our ventures off the highway included cycling through Royston, where we saw a breakwater made of old ships and the Courtenay air park.

Thanksgiving dinner sure tasted good that evening after a full day of exercise. It was a great visit, albeit on the short side.

The Way Back

The way home was much like the way up except that I took a different route through Nanaimo. I followed Hammond Bay Road, which is closer to the water and a bit more scenic. The trouble with that route though was that there were some harsh hills in the Departure Bay area, right at the end of a long day's ride. Departure Bay beach was worth the stop though.

On the other side, I put the bike on to the bus at Horseshoe Bay and then cycled the rest of the way home from downtown Vancouver.


My ultimate conclusion about riding from Nanaimo to Comox was that I absolutely loved it. I've driven up and down that route several dozen times and cycling was a completely different experience. I saw places never known about before and stopped at others I've wondered about for years.

The experience wasn't as hard as I was afraid it might be. The previous day's ride didn't weigh too heavily on me even after four days on the road. Places to stop for a bite to eat were also nicely spaced.

I've ridden up to Comox a few times since. Each time I find a slightly different way to go that avoids the highway and heavy traffic. I still haven't found a way to avoid that stretch along Nanoose Bay. I live in hope that one day they will put in a bicycle path along the railway, extending that route through Nanaimo. I think that would be the ultimate safe cycle touring experience.

The Multi-Media Bits

Here is my video log from the trip up the island, pointing out all the sights that I would have missed if I had taken a car:

I also have a map of my route, retrieved from my GPS: