Chapter: The Island

Created by: David Williams

Current route filename:

Photos: All photos by David Williams unless specified 

The Vancouver Island section of the trail will take you from the ferry landing in Nanaimo to Grant Bay near the top end of Vancouver Island... The Island consists of heavily forested, mountainous terrain and is laced with thousands of KMs of loose surface industry roads which is mostly what the route will follow ... These roads are used primarily by the logging companies so you should expect to meet heavy trucks or equipment at anytime of the day... The conditions of most of these roads is usually fair to good as they are constantly being maintained do to the recent raw logs to China boom... Close to 90% of the Vancouver Island population lives on the southern half of the Island {Cambell River South} so that will likely be reflected with busier back roads and rec sites for your first couple days ... Another sad fact that comes with the larger south Island population is that a lot of the arterial logging roads that loop through the more scenic mountain areas are gated and closed to the general public.. This leaves the less exciting bottom of the valley mainline roads as the only TCAT option in many cases...

Climate- Vancouver Islands weather is influenced a lot by its close proximity to the Pacific and that means precipitation... The moisture laden clouds rolls in off the Pacific and hit the mountains, dumping moisture in order to rise thus giving the west side of the Island the biggest hit ... The communities on the east side are somewhat shadowed by the mountains and receive a lot less moisture but still a considerable amount over the course of a year... Victoria receives the least amount of precip as it gets shadowed by the mountains on the Olympic Peninsula as well.. Temperatures vary quite a bit from South to North: The South Islands summertime weather is a lot warmer due to the influence that the almost land locked Gulf of Georgia has... The North Island gets it's weather influence from the cold North Pacific flow in off the waters of Queen Charlotte sound.. This is much cooler body of water than Georgia strait and when the temps rise on the south island it creates a vacuum that sucks the cold air in from the Pacific cooling the North Island before it hits the central Island land mass that creates warming ... Temps often are 10 C cooler on the North Island than the South... Normal summertime highs on the North Island are 15 - 20 C and on the South Island 20 - 30 C... Lows, North 9 -14 C, South 12 -16 C...

Snow- The coastal lowlands of the Island receives most of its precip in the form of rain, any snow that falls usually doesn't stick around for long, so this means year around riding if you don't mind wet roads... The inland higher elevations are a different story, often receiving 10' to 30' of snow over the winter and during the heavy snow pack years this means snowed in passes till late spring early summer... On the south Island sections of the TCAT snow is not really an issue as there are really no high passes to deal with and warmer temps help for a quicker thaw ... The North Island keeps it snow for longer because of the cooler temps so during the heavy snow years you may not be able to get through until late May or early June, but most years count on early May to be passable...

Wildlife- Vancouver Island has quite a large variety of wildlife and if you’re lucky you may catch a glimpse and be able to identify some... For land predators you have: mink, martin, red fox { small population Sayward area} timber wolves, cougar, black bear and grizzly bear { small population}... In the deer family you have black tail deer and Roosevelt elk and other stuff you may see are red squirrels, marmots, ruffed grouse, blue grouse, ptarmigan, bald eagles, owls, hawks and turkey vultures... In season there will be salmon moving up the creeks as well as cutthroat trout and steelhead for the fly fisherman...

The bears on average seem to get larger towards the top end of the island {this is likely due to more of a fish diet} and more numerous... Vancouver Island has the largest density of cougars on the planet but being shy by nature it is rare to see one... The same goes for wolves, they are around but one rarely sees them... The most dangerous animal on the island is the Elk and this is only because they are large... The danger they present is the same as from a deer, road hazard, and because they usually travel in groups, you may get more than one jump out in front of you at the same time...




Logging truck hazard : There are 2 types of trucks running these roads, the smaller 10' wide highway trucks and the much larger 12'-16' wide Fat off road trucks... Most of the south Island area roads have gone to the smaller hwy trucks which are less of a hazard on the wider mainline roads but still take up a lot of the road and their long loads have quite a bit of tail sweep around the corners... It is best to avoid the very narrow roads during the times that the trucks are running and either transit on a weekend {some outfits work weekends} or after working hours... Some indications that the road is being used by heavy truck traffic are: Large dual tire track patterns showing on the road surface, lots of track patterns in the pullouts indicating frequent use, muddy sections where the road is being compressed pushing up ooze and fresh water lines on the road surface on the down hills... The water lines on the road surface come from the trucks brake cooling system as to where the brakes get a spray jet of water on them from a reservoir tank that keeps them from fading due to the heat generated by heavy load braking... On a dusty road is where these water lines really show and can indicate that a truck has passed very recently and to expect more... If you do get caught out on a narrow road with a truck hazard present then it may not a bad idea to drop into each pullout {use the pullouts on both sides of the road, not just the right side}, shut off your engine and listen for trucks coming, if nothing heard drive to the next pullout and do the same... Do not stop at any time in areas where there are no pullouts to leave the vehicle/ bike for a photo op or a short hike to a feature as your vehicle will present a hazard to any heavy traffic that may come along... Go out of your way to get clear of the road for safety sake... If you have a large truck barreling down on you with no pullout, time to back up or escape option then it may be best to get as far over off to the shoulder of the road and quickly exit the vehicle moving away a safe distance on foot until the truck has passed... With a motorcycle if in a safe spot to do so you could ride off the road into the shallow ditch to give the truck the full road to get by on or lay the bike down on the bank side of the road and get clear of it... Even when a truck going opposite approaches you in a wide spot on the road you should still pull over as far as you can and stop until it goes by... If you see a logging company employee truck pulled over along the route it would be a good idea to stop and inquire about logging activity and possible hazards...

Towards Northern Vancouver Island they still run a lot of Fat trucks so your best option would be plan your timings to be in the area on a weekend, holiday or after hours... These trucks make a wide road look narrow so your best to avoid any encounters with them by not transiting those area roads at the times they're using them...]



Loading bikes on the ferry

On B.C. ferries motorcycles get priority loading and get moved to the head of the line even during a multi sailing wait... This is considered payback as we pay a substantial fair for the room we take up onboard when compared to a 4 wheel vehicle....

Upon loading aboard the ferry in Horseshoe bay you will find a bunch of wooden blocks to prop your bike onto the side stand rather than tie down ropes, USE THE Blocks!!! In one incident a couple of GS 1200 riders on the ferry straddled their bikes before the ferry was fully docked and when the ferry touched the ramp cushion the bump knocked both riders over... One landed on a cleat hitting his head and doing quite a bit of damage to the bike... So wait till the ferry is fully docked before you get on your motorcycle...

The Route: {Approx 850-900 KM long}

The ferry offloads in the city of Nanaimo , with a population of around 80,000 people is the second largest city on the Island after Greater Victoria.... Nanaimo started its life in the late 1800s as a coal mining area during the Dunsmuir era and over the years has built up as an industrial centre as well as shopping mecca ...

The road straight off the ferry will join into the Island highway #1 and take you south past Ladysmith.. Look for fuel in Ladysmith or catch a station a bit south of there as your turn off at MT Sicker RD will be coming up soon { I believe there is gas right at the #1/Sicker road junction}... A few KMs up Mount Sicker road you'll hit your first bit of Island dirt as the road climbs up some forested switchbacks and takes you over the mountain to link to the Cowichan HWY{#18} ... This bit of road will likely be the most technical of the South Island sections, there will be some steep, tight 2 track switchbacks some small water bars and the odd muddy section if conditions are damp... There is no guarantee that logging operations may or may not be taking place and could temporarily close the road so if that is the case you will have to backtrack to highway #1 and then turn off onto hwy #18...



Above and below: Mount Sicker





Highway #18 will take you to Cowichan lake, more in particular the town of Youbou that rests on the right side of the lake as you head west... Youbou up until a few years ago was a sawmill town until they shut the mill down stating " lack of timber as the excuse"... I can imagine how frustrating it is for those laid off millworkers to have to watch the thousands of truckloads of logs rumble by on their way to mills in China... Youbou will be the last chance for gas as shortly after you will hit the dirt roads again along Cowichan Lake, this time you'll be on groomed mainlines... Look for a couple campgrounds along the lake {Pine Point, Maple Grove} before you get to the top end of the lake... Just at the top end after a short left off the track the Heather Campsite sits and it is the nicest by far...



Above and below: Heather Campsite



After Heather campsite the track continues on past Kissinger Lake Campsite and then runs parallel to the Nitnat River, follow this road down{ Nitnat Main} to where it joins Carmanah Main... If you take the left here off the track for 10 km it will take you past the native village and down to a very nice campsite on Nitnat lake...



Above and below: Nitnat Campsite



Back on track from the junction you follow the mainline {Carmanah main} towards Port Alberni until you reach Flora Lake main which spurs off to the left... On the way along Flora main you'll come up to it's namesake, Flora Lake, look for a spur road to the left just before the lake that will take you to a very nice small campground along the lake ..

Next 2 photos: Flora Lake





Along Flora main the track will then turn into south central main and come out on the Bamfield RD...The left turn to Bamfield is worth the stray off track and will take you past the Pachena campsite run by the local native band {look for the signs}... Bamfield was once the terminus for the trans pacific underwater cable... It is now a small fishing/ logging community with an ocean inlet as its main street... It also has the Coast Guard rough weather training center based there out of the CCG station...


Above and below: Pachena






Length: 850-900 kilometers