Rain, horrible visibility, cold and even some snow

Vancouver Island, Day 3-5

Left Victoria on Tuesday morning, bound for Tofino. The wind died down mid-morning and I headed out after a stop at Floyd’s Diner for a late breakfast/brunch. Figured that the soup and tea I had packed, along with some Clif bars would be enough to hold me for a while.

Leaving Victoria I eventually made my way to the main road, which was clogged with large earth-moving trucks. It seemed like every direction you went, somebody was moving a truck load of dirt, gravel, or something else. Rode north to Nanaimo at a much slower pace than I anticipated, through occasional showers and low visibility.

The first sign of trouble came shortly before Nanaimo where a road conditions sign displayed a message about the possibility of winter conditions with packed snow on the road. It was unspecific about location and I continued on, cutting west on BC 4 toward Port Alberni. The road is beautiful and would have been a great ride in better visibility without the frequent fogging of my visor. It did get cold towards Alberni Summit, but not cold enough for snow. I continued to Port Alberni where I fueled up and pushed on, having had no luck in getting any solid information about the conditions ahead.

[Note to whoever runs DriveBC.ca, it is really, really, really dumb that the most critical road cam on this stretch of highway, the one at Sutton Pass where the weather is likely to be worst, is “permanently out of operation.” Knowing that the road is wet but clear on the sections that get snow last is pretty useless.]

Leaving Port Alberni, the electronic road conditions sign was generic, warning that one should take care if winter conditions are encountered, but saying nothing about what the conditions actually were at the time. I’ve generally been pretty happy with road warnings in Canada, but this one seems to have been left off the list of things to keep updated.

I made it most of the way along Sproat Lake to the west of Port Alberni before the rain got heavier, and turned into the horrible mess of rain and hail euphemistically referred to as “frozen mix.” At this point, my seat and grip heaters were no longer keeping up and the bike was flashing a warning about cold air temps and the possibility of ice. I was prepared for cool, wet spring weather, but not for a late winter storm. I could tell I was tired and stiff and not riding well which is usually when you need to turn back because soon after that, is when you stop seeing the warning signs. Likelihood of snow ahead made my decision for me. Sometimes retreat is the best option.

So I made a rather poor U-turn, saved it just barely, and rode back to Port Alberni where I settled in at Timmy’s to regroup.

A call to the hostel confirmed that others had arrived after experiencing treacherous snowy conditions on the pass. They graciously accepted the cancellation and encouraged me not to try. I looked at the options and booked a place in Qualicum Beach for a couple of days. This would mean losing out on the more social bit of the trip that I had really been looking forward to. I enjoy staying in hostels or B&Bs and meeting people along the way (or, outside the US, in the much broader array of accommodations one might encounter). As I’ve often noted, American (or Canadian) style motels are just not the place to do it. But that’s life. I’ve got another trip planned in June.

Hot chocolate, donuts and some warming got me back on the road for the relatively short ride. I was still not in great shape, but good enough to get to where I was going. I had to ride back over Alberni Summit with a serious steep downgrade on twisty roads in low visibility on the other side. That one really spooked me this time. I found myself in the unusual position of looking for turnouts to let others pass. Sometimes you’re in survival mode and the point is to get through it. I was past that point. Somewhere in this whole mess, the right mirror also decided to come loose and start flopping around in the wind. I’m guessing a combination of it never being as tight as it really should have been, combined with some cold weather. I took it off and decided to deal with it another day.

Arrived in Qualicum Beach and finished my soup and hot tea facing the water. The rain dissipated almost as soon as I arrived and as much as the rest of the day sucked, this part surely didn’t.

Got to the motel, parked the bike, and found dinner.

Day 4: Another rest day

I fixed the mirror and adjusted the shifter a bit again, then took the bike for a ride up and down the beach to explore a bit, but that’s all the riding I did today. Rain showers moved in and out, so I retreated to the comfort of my camera. I love photographing in variable weather, and that’s what I did. Just seemed like the right thing to do after a really exhausting day.

As it did yesterday, the weather improved, then the clouds parted and the sun came out at the end of the day. I walked the 3km to the Black Bird Schnitzel House at the other end of the beach for comfort food and a beer. Went all out with a pepercorn and mushroom schnitzel followed by Apple Strudel for dessert, and my first beer in weeks. Definitely recommended. Then I walked back in the late evening sun. Truly glorious.

Day 5: Staying local

Was hoping for some improvement in the weather today, but again no dice. In fact, worse than yesterday, with non-stop heavy rain. Awful for riding, awful for photography and generally awful. Put on my rain gear and walked to downtown for lunch and coffee. No real plans. I could move on and get closer to where I need to be on Friday (Comox ferry terminal) but don’t see much point to that. The next few days are supposed to be less bad, if not really good, and this is just one of those times when waiting it out seems like the prudent plan. As I write this, the rain is finally slowing at close to 6pm. A bit late for me to want to gear up and go for a ride but may get an hour or so of photography before the light quits.

Tomorrow I need to make it to Comox to catch the Powell River ferry. Hopefully I’ll be able to do a bit more than that, but I’ll take it as it comes.

Some trips end up being more riding, and others more “doing things along the way and riding in between.” This is turning to the latter. That’s life.