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Tour of the Bays 400
Ride Date: July 10, 2021
by Murray Tough

It started innocently enough. A pleasant, unremarkable, ride took our group of three along the shore of Shawnigan Lake, across the Kinsol Trestle then onto the gravel section on Mountain Road. In my books, any descent on a bicycle is fun and this definitely included the gravel section. The only problem was the sun was still low in the sky, which left me feeling chilled at the bottom of the hill. As it turned out, I would not face that problem again until midnight.

For me, the highlight of the trip was the ride on Genoa Bay Road. The scenery ranged from ocean and rugged hills to gentle rolling pastures. And the riding; it’s as good as it gets. Twists and turns, climbs to challenge you and descents to thrill you. I try to remind myself to go easy—I still have a daunting 350k to go.

As we arrived in Chemainus, we got to ride the shiny new bike lanes—very well done! The section of the Cowichan Valley Trail leaving Chemainus was a delightful break from the road. There was the odd dog walker to avoid but the trail is lush and shady before giving way to open farmland with a backdrop of hills. The final section before Ladysmith is a mixed use raised sidewalk on the side of the road. It’s too narrow for its intended mixed use and it has all these dips where every driveway crosses it. I’m not a fan.

We meandered through Nanaimo on a route that felt like a labyrinth. I’m not complaining, it was as interesting as it was confusing, but I greatly appreciate that it kept us off the main roads and highways. Somehow, we arrived at the Lantzville control and headed back to another confounding meander through Nanaimo.

You know a hill is going to be steep when it warrants a “GEAR DOWN!” entry on the route sheet. If I had any thoughts about carrying some momentum into this monstrous mound, they disappeared at the sight of the log sized tree root that created a rim wrecking speed bump at the bottom of the hill.

Up to this point, the course had had plenty of hills, but they were just the warmup act. The main event is the climb to the summit on South Forks Road. The climb was as relentless as the heat, which was now close to 30. I was only 200k into the ride and already feeling weary. I stopped at Subway in Chemainus for a sandwich. I had intended to eat half and save half for later. But I took a bite of the second half, and then another, and then another, and then it was gone. I headed back onto the course with renewed vigour.

The ride to Duncan wound its way through farms and vineyards, the air was spiced with the smell of fresh cut hay. Richard’s Trail is another really fun road to ride. Somewhere there was a draught horse with flock of birds on its back. After Duncan, the farms gave way to forest.

The climb to Lake Cowichan wasn’t as arduous as I had remembered it. Is that a sort of a reverse randonnesia? But the light was failing, the sunglasses were off and the headlight was on. Soon my world was limited to a small cone of light. We were no longer riding as a group—at a certain point, it is just easier to suffer alone.

I got a little freaked out when the periphery of my light caught a deer in the ditch. Please, just stay in the ditch and don’t run in front of me.

It was midnight when I stopped at the Gordon Bay control. I’m feeling a little tired again. Half a sandwich would have been nice!

The ride to the control at Youbou is the toughest leg of the trip. It’s not physically challenging but it’s the wee hours of the morning, I’m tired and I’m starting to have visions of hot showers and soft pillows. Youbou is going the wrong way! As I ride through Lake Cowichan I’m aware that my refuge is only 50k away but first I have to spend almost 2 hours riding to Youbou and back. Logically I know that 400k is 400k no matter what the course is but emotionally, I did not want to ride to Youbou.

On a pitch-dark road, I realized how spectacular the sky was. I stopped briefly, turned off my lights and gazed upwards. I tried to look while riding but the ditch was lying in wait for tired cyclists that aren’t looking forward. It was a moonless night, which allowed the stars to shine at their most brilliant. The milky way was bright and clear. Jupiter, which out shone everything in the sky, hung in front of me like a beacon leading me home.

I said that I appreciated all the detours that kept us off the highway but the detours inevitably meant more hills. The second “GEAR DOWN!” warning of the trip is at 383k. It was an evil obstacle lurking between me and the finish line. I decided that I needed to stretch my worn-out legs. In other words, I pushed my bike up the hill. The final climb of the trip is a gentle climb to Cobble Hill. After that, a rolling descent and it’s over. Mill Bay at last.

This was only my second 400k. My first one was the same course last year. Are they all this arduous? “Tour of the Bays”? “Tour of the Hills” might be more fitting.

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July 13, 2021