August 10: Victoria to Swartz Bay, British Columbia - The Great North American Sticky Bun Hunt - CycleBlaze

August 10: Victoria to Swartz Bay, British Columbia

The sailor safely home from the sea: monument in Victoria harbour.
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THE GALLOPING GOOSE TRAIL... isn't that a wonderful name? You get to it from the harbour in Victoria by crossing a pale blue steel bridge. A slip road drops to water level and from there all the way to Swartz Bay and beyond is a peaceful, traffic-free path shared by walkers, joggers and cyclists.

It passes through Victoria's small suburbs, shops and workshops, has priority over small roads and its own lights for larger ones. The path then divides into several routes which burst star-like across the island. Ours was the Lochside Trail and that ran 32km to the ferry port at Swartz Bay.

North from Vancouver to Swarz Bay: lovely trails that follow old train lines.
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It's hard to praise it adequately because it is pretty much all such a path could be, often beautifully surfaced and, even when it wasn't, made of compacted gravel without holes or tree roots. There are signposts, information boards, benches with bike racks, and charming trestle bridges that used to carry a railway.

We had stopped for lunch at one of the benches when a man freewheeled up on a mountain bike. It emerged from our conversation that he was well into his eighties. His name, he said, was Al. His smile and his enthusiasm for life were glorious.

Al and Herman: old pals with a standing rendezvous.
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"My parents were from Switzerland," he said. "Victoria Island has the same area as Switzerland [and that alone puts the size of Canada into perspective] but the scenery's different, of course."

He asked if we knew there was a bike trail right across Canada. We said we didn't, that we knew there was a path in parts but that it disappeared for thousands of kilometres. He assured us it was there right enough, "although it's not all in a beautiful state like this - but it's getting there.

"This used to be a train line. You knew that, I suppose. I remember giving donations to have the path laid."

He said he lived a short ride away, that he'd been retired for 26 years and that he had worked at the naval dockyards. "Still the largest employer in the area after the government, but the way things are going there are fewer and fewer people in the yards."

Several minutes later it turned out that he hadn't stopped just to pass time with us. An angular man with a square head and impressive scaffolding around his back teeth appeared from another direction and the two greeted each other as the old friends they were. Herman, the arrival, was also in his eighties and as warm and friendly as Al. This was a regular rendezvous and they'd ride on together for coffee in town.

Herman has lived in Canada since 1956 and he was much happier speaking English than Dutch, his native tongue, even if he had a light accent.

"I was born in Indonesia," he said. "It was still a Dutch colony then. So although we moved to Holland, to Harlem, when I was young, well, it's a lovely country but I never felt at home there."

Herman: Dutch by birth but he never felt at home in Holland.
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He and his family were taken prisoner when the Japanese invaded the islands during the second world war. His father died and Herman was brought up by his mother.

"We went to Holland but it was very depressed after the war. Everybody could live there but you could never get on, never advance. My mother thought I should learn French and she sent me to France. But I got in with a crowd of English there and we all got on well, so I learned to speak English. And then in 1956 I could see there was a better future in Canada than Holland and so I moved here to work as a construction engineer."

How long he and Al had known each other, I never found out. For ages, certainly. Al called his friend Herman-the-German. And while Dutchmen of Herman's age have nothing for which to thank the Germans, he didn't object.

It's hard to speak highly enough of the lovely ride to Swarz Bay.
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They went one way and we the other, riding the path as far as a campground just short of the ferry. Our only other encounter was with a man struggling to strap a case of diet cola to his bike, embarrassed not only with his lack of success but with his load. "It's for my wife," he said quickly.

Her said he had followed the Tour de France and asked if we had. We said we had been away all summer and had caught only snatches.

"A Canadian did really well," he said.

"He did?"

"Yes, and he came from right here in Victoria." He was proud.

"What was his name?"

He answered the question but I forget what he said. It meant nothing to us.

"I'm afraid we've never heard of him."

"Don't worry. Nor had anyone else. But it's still quite something, isn't it?"

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Jacquie GaudetI live on the mainland but my husband is from Victoria. We ride the Lochside trail frequently, whenever we go to visit.

It was Ryder Hesjedal who placed fifth in the Tour de France in 2010 and went on to win the Giro d'Italia in 2012.
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1 year ago
Leo WoodlandHi. Thanks for the message. That was a glorious day and I remember it well. I think we're excused for not having Ryder Hesjedal's name on the tip of our tongue at the time, though!
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1 year ago