Pro City Adventure Sportif Series
Ride #3 - Salt Spring Island Two Peak Gravel Grinder
Salt Spring Island: home to folksy art galleries, a decadent goat cheese farm, a whimsical farmer’s market (where you can acquire a kick-a** tie-dye bedtime onesie), and the most leg-punishing, speed-halting, soul-crushing gravel grind road climbs in western Canada. So naturally, we rode our bikes there.
Springtime in Victoria is always hit-and-miss, but despite questionable skies awaiting us a merry group rolled from Trek Bikes Harbour Road. With a smaller group than previous ASS rides, we made efficient progress out to Swartz Bay ferry terminal along one of the South Island’s more scenic routes, the Lochside Trail.
With almost an hour to spare before the ferry (and no ferry line for bikes :) we stopped off in Sidney and indulged in some of the local cuisine… or whatever was open at 9:30 on a sleepy Sunday morning. Also, dip & squeeze Heinz Ketchup is our new spirit animal.
Back on the bikes, we made it to Swartz Bay in good time. A return ticket to the Disneyland of gravel adventure rides.
If you’ve ever been to Victoria chances are you’re familiar with the Spirit Class ferries - bloated, floating cafeterias featuring hoards of screaming youth sports teams roaming the passenger decks and overpriced Goretex and fleece outerwear for your 3 min visit to the freezing outside deck. But if you’ve ever ventured to one of the adjacent Gulf Islands, it’s likely you have sailed on a Century Class boat. These ferries are the antithesis of a Carnival cruise, characterized by an exposed vehicle deck, plastic galley seats and windows. That’s it. A spartan affair that is pure utilitarian island transport (one step up from a barge with life jackets) and a wonderfully refreshing experience to travel by bike.
As you roll off the ferry and out of Fulford Harbour terminal, it’s straight uphill - 11.5% steep. On cold sea legs it’s an uncomfortable yet telling indication of the terrain ahead. Lush rolling hills, quiet roads and quaint art studios lull you into a state of false calm as we meandered the route to our first milestone - Mount Maxwell.
A quick stop to catch our collective breathe as we begin our assault and we see the world’s most motivating road sign… needless to say, we were on our bikes again with little delay.
Mount Maxwell Provincial Park tops out at 508m above sea level. While not quite a classified climb in a Grand Tour, the 9km road quickly (and contemptuously) turns to a wet, slotted mixed gravel/mud surface that laughs in the face of steady ascending progress. The climb is slow, providing time to question yourself, your motivation, your life goals, even that one awkward conversation with your college roommate 15 years ago about the whereabouts of your last Lucky beer - there’s no place the mind won’t wander when you’re faced with a climb that finishes with an 800m section averaging 10% and topping out at a massive 20%. Oh, did we mention this was all on wet & slippery GRAVEL??
Eventually, miraculously, thankfully we reach the summit and are treated with a welcome and scenic view of the surrounding islands.
In an effort to avoid reliving the quasi goat climb trail from h*ll, and to appease the intrepid mountain bikers in our cohort, we opted for a path less travelled on the descent. A quick rip down some mixed-use single track both filled the cup of motivation again and proved to be a good time to share a laugh as we sessioned some of the more technical bits on our gravel road bikes.
Back on the main roads, we rode in tight formation back towards Fulford Harbour, rolling paceline turns, refuelling and getting set for the second climb on the far end of the island - Mount Taum. At 606m it’s only 100m higher than Mount Maxwell, but with fatigue from the distance and accumulated elevation already setting in our legs, plus an even rougher road surface (if that was even possible) ahead of us, this was going to be a serious task to summit.
It was too steep/long/exhausting to pull out the camera on the climb, but without trying to be too dramatic we are fairly certain the 8km to the summit of the Mount Taum Ecological Reserve remains some of the hardest kilometres we’ve ever climbed. Our group featured some strong riders - a BC masters cyclocross champion and a BC single-speed cyclocross champion to name just two - and it would be fair to say everyone contemplated getting off their bikes at walking at some point. A humbling experience to say the least, but the effort made the summit that much sweeter.
From this point, it was panic stations as we had a ferry to catch. Lucky our group had done some reconnaissance of the descent and found a connector trail to the top of a new housing development featuring some freshly paved roads. A screaming descent back into Fulford Harbour provided just enough time to raid the local grocery store like a plague of locusts (a six-pack of muffins never tasted so good). Back onto the ferry with only a flat 30km roll back into town ahead of us, conversation lulled to a comfortable haunt as everyone powered down to let the big day calibrate.
Another great day with the Trek Bike Adventure Sportif Series, be sure to join us for our fourth adventure at the end of May as we take on the popular Three-Ferry Loop.
If you’re keen to try this ride for yourself, click here for the Strava route. (https://www.strava.com/activities/1540144746)