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Touring Salt Spring Island on Rental Bikes

When I first arrived in Victoria, BC, a new friend invited me to go on a cycling adventure to Salt Spring Island and take in the Saturday Farmer’s Market.
The only two things I knew about Salt Spring Island were that there are more artists, artisans, and authors than trees living there, and that the islanders love good food. Since I’ve always enjoyed perusing galleries and I’m a foodie, I said, “Yes.”

We decided to rent bikes, so the day before our adventure, we met at Sports Rent; we found the staff friendly and knowledgeable. Along with our bike rental, they gave us a helmet, lock, repair kit, maps of our location, and plenty of great advice.

They suggested we start out from downtown really early the next morning so we would be able to make the 7 am sailing to Fulford Harbour. Being able to take the bikes overnight gave us the chance for an early start and no rush to get to the Swartz Bay ferry.

The next morning, we started out early—about 5:30 am. The Lochside Trail was beautiful. We silently glided through stillness and low-lying fog that eventually burned off in the rising sun.

The ride takes about 2 hours and is quite level as the trail is the old railway line. Once on the ferry, I slipped into a peaceful reverie to watch the view slide by during the 50-minute boat ride... until the ship’s captain blasted me awake with the horn as we approached our destination.

We had been directed to park our bicycles in the bow of the ship when we boarded so they could let us off first.  My advice to other cyclists is to just pull aside once you get off the boat and let all the cars get off before tackling the hill. Once the cars are gone, the road is all yours.

We wanted the scenic route, so at the fork in the road at the top of the hill we turned right onto Beaver Point Road.  The next leg of our trip was a little challenging because I hadn’t comprehended how large or hilly Salt Spring Island truly is. Be sure to bring some food as I quickly consumed what little I had. When we found homemade cookies at a stand just past Stowell Lake, it was like finding treasure. The cookies and the view were excellent. I left behind all my spare cash and very few crumbs.

We followed Beaver Point Road to Cusheon Lake Road to Beddis Road, which finally brought us back to Fulford Ganges Road. From there it was a long, relaxing downhill cruise into the village.

By this time, we’d been travelling for over an hour and the cookies were long gone, so we stopped in at the Tree House Café on Purvis Lane for lunch. This café is, quite literally, a giant converted treehouse and an excellent introduction to the island’s foodie culture. Considering that breakfast is my favourite meal, I was delighted to learn that they served it until 4 pm. I ordered the Tree House Breakfast, followed up by the Muesli Goat Cheese Ball. My partner enjoyed a Roasted Yam Burrito.

After our meal, we made our way to the Salt Spring Island Saturday Market in Centennial Park. It was just past 11 am and buzzing. The island’s vibrant art community was on full display, with artisans hawking their wares. This scene belied my notion that artists move to Salt Spring to find peace and tranquility.

The market’s rule state vendors must “make it, bake it or grow it.” Nothing’s imported. Some of Canada’s best artisans live there, crafting jewellery, woodwork, paintings, and pottery—and food! I was especially delighted with the cheese. Salt Spring Island Cheese creates assorted goat cheeses; while I detest goats (that’s another story), I’ve never met a goat cheese I didn’t like. I bought some blue and feta and wrapped them in a cold pack for the long trip back home.

The fair goes until 4 pm, but we decided to get an early start to beat traffic, so we packed up and cycled out of town at around 2:45 pm. Now we were faced with biking back up the hill out of Ganges—payment for the long cruise into town. It tested our fortitude and our rental bikes, but we made it. 
We wanted to hit the Salt Spring Winery for a tasting tour, so we stayed on Fulford Ganges Road and arrived at the winery at 3:30 pm. Their tasting counter sported a selection of wines produced largely from their own local, organic grapes and fruit.

My cycling partner liked the Blackberry Port. They called it “essence of blackberries.” Once they told her it goes extremely well with chocolate, she bought one bottle, then tried to bribe me into carrying a second bottle. Unfortunately for her, I’d already bought a bottle of Evolution Red and I was at my carrying capacity.

I shouldn’t have worried about that, though, because once we settled down for a picnic to rest our tired legs, we had most of our cheese and wine. It’s nearly impossible to resist good food when you’re biking hard.

Afterwards, we meandered along Burgoyne Bay Road to the shoreline. There’s a long wooden dock and we sat there awhile and consumed the rest of the cheese and wine while taking in the bay, which Mount Maxwell looks over; it's tree-shrouded, except for the last 700 feet of rock wall up to Bayne’s Peak.

We left to catch the 5:50 pm boat back to Swartz Bay, then biked on to Victoria. When I finally bid my companion adieu and arrived home, the joy of accomplishment gave way to an exhaustion only a day of sun, wine, cheese, and exertion brings. I hit my bed and slept so soundly I missed my alarm the next morning!

Salt Spring Island is a fabulous day trip, especially by bike. Take lots of pictures, enjoy the food and wine and let the staff at Sports Rent know what a great time you had!