Tsunami II: “Pacific Circle Route”

by Raymond Parker on July 1, 2009

in Cycling, Randonneuring

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Fūjin puts in an appearance

As the ferry departed Brentwood, heading for Mill Bay, the Strait of Georgia was still as a mill pond and the sun shone from a clear blue sky—“perfect kayaking weather,” Lindsay Martin commented.

We were assembled on the deck of the M.V. Mill Bay—a dozen cyclists and 3 volunteers—on the unusual start of the newly-minted Tsunami 300 “Pacific Circle Route” brevet.

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A Dozen Set Sail

The first sailing was at 7:30, so a start time of 8’ O’Clock—the estimated time of arrival on the Mill Bay side—had been pre-entered on control cards, along with the coveted Tsunami Start Stamp, consisting of the Japanese characters representing “harbour wave.”

The ferry soon pulled out of Brentwood Harbour, onto the glassy blue sea and, after a half hour of scenic sailing, deposited us on the forested eastern shore. Bicylists disembarked first, followed by auto traffic, including the ride organizers.

A short seaside cruise brought riders to Mill Bay. From this village, randonneurs crossed the Trans-Canada Highway and ascended gently up toward Shawnigan Lake. Beyond Cobble Hill lay one of the newest road additions to the Vancouver Island randonnée route archive.

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Jeff Mudrakoff, Lindsay Martin, Nigel Press head for Mill Bay

For nearly 20 years, I’d been waiting for the steep, rutted track linking Thain and Hillbank Roads to become passable to ordinary vehicles. This short, 1.2 kilometre forestry road would make it possible to stay completely off the highway between Duncan and Mill Bay. Last summer, I discovered it had been graded to a reasonable condition. It was now in much better nick than the day, 16 years ago, when I high-centred my old station wagon, nearly ripping off the muffler!

Riders still had to be conservative on the steep descent on loose gravel, down to the junction of appropriately-named Hillbank Road, but they enjoyed the shady, forested passage, as the day began to heat up.

Sneaky organizers soon had the randos sign through a secret control. Why anyone would want to ride the busy highway to Duncan, rather than this bucolic tangle of country roads however is anyone’s guess. All were happy to have an excuse to stop, strip off arm warmers and refill bottles, just 25 kilometres into the brevet. Then they were off, through Duncan and up the hill to Lake Cowichan.

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Chris Cullum leads into Lake Cowichan

We followed them along Old Lake Cowichan Road, stopping to grab a few snapshots, then—as the first randos arrived—repaired to the pub for lunch. It was hot now, as we sat on the patio overlooking the lake, eating a meal fit for a ravenous cyclist, while riders opted for a local coffee shop, just down the street.

The route now headed into novel territory: 55 kilometres of the newly-paved “Pacific Circle Route,” linking Lake Cowichan and Port Renfrew, on Juan de Fuca Strait.

This was another stretch of heretofore unpaved logging road I’d been hoping for two decades would be improved. The region it traverses has been a battle ground for environmentalists and industry for just as long. What little forest remains now is of more use, in economic terms, in the service of tourism.

Last year, prior to the out-and-back Tsunami brevet, I decided, having motored out from Victoria to examine the condition of the pothole-riven West Coast Highway to Port Renfrew, to check the old Harris Creek and Hillcrest Mainlines, through to Lake Cowichan. It had been 15 years since I last braved their unpaved potholes and dust.

I was surprised, just north of Port Renfrew village, to see the cracked, heaved and washed-out asphalt on the other side of the San Juan River had been repaired—even more agog that it had been extended beyond Fairy Lake. Could my dreams have come true?

Hopes were dashed shortly when the pavement ended, to be replaced by a series of rutted, gravel switchbacks, snaking up toward Mesachie Lake.

Then—hallelujah!—five kilometres on, the “pavement” (as such) resumed and continued all the way to South Shore Road, on the outskirts of Lake Cowichan. Never before had I felt a fondness for chipseal. I decided this was finally a viable circle route, fit for the title “Tsunami II.”

During the winter, playing around on Bikely, I’d decided to run the route counter-clockwise. But that meant the tiresome trip over the busy and boring Malahat. What about “Vancouver Island’s most beautiful shortcut,” never part a brevet before? The Brentwood-Mill Bay ferry it was.

These adjustments left the new iteration an entirely civilized route of 304 kilometres by 2400 vertical metres, compared to the 306 km/3900 metre statistics of Tsunami I.

The last piece of the puzzle fell into place, when it was reported in the Victoria Times Colonist newspaper that the final 5 kilometres of switchbacks would be paved, conveniently, just a week before the June 27 event date.

Now the Determined Dozen were into the heart of the route. Chris Cullum forged to the front with his newly-built retro Coho bike, homing in on Port Renfrew.

Most riders tuned in to the celebratory nature of the traverse. They opted for a leisurely sojourn at the Port Renfrew Hotel, sitting on the oceanside deck. The usually driven Nigel Press was caught quaffing beer, perhaps putting off the mountainous ascent south out of town.

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Nigel rehydrates in Port Renfrew

Soon enough, the lumpy journey began, as each rider navigated the rolling West Coast Highway to Sooke. At least they had only to descend the devilish 21% switchbacks on this circle route—arguably the greatest mercy granted by Tsunami II. The only danger left was a chance meeting of one’s rear wheel, going ‘round the hairpins.

The other area of concern was the very abrupt descents and ascents on the next unpaved section: the Galloping Goose Trail, between Sooke and Gillespie Roads. Not to worry; these experienced randonneurs took it all in stride.

It was during this period that the weather did an about-face. Fūjin puffed out his cheeks, gunmetal-blue clouds blotted out the yellow setting sun and a rainstorm cut loose from a jagged rent in the sky. Luckily, the Japanese Shinto deity’s bluster was more benevolent than bellicose and the breeze mostly followed our cycling Samurai back to Victoria.

At 244 kilometres, the route threaded throngs of tourists past the LED-lit Parliament, into the heart of James Bay for the penultimate control, before heading 45 kilometres along the coast to Sidney. From there, only 13 kilometres remained in the big circle, where volunteers hid from the rain in the shadowed doorway of the Moodyville General Store.

Chris Cullum was first to complete the loop in 14 hours and four minutes, followed an hour-and-fourteen-minutes later by Malcolm McAuley. Rick den Braber, Lee Ringham and Patrick Wright woke us next, at exactly 12:30 AM, for an elapsed time of 16:30. The next trio consisted of Lindsay Martin, Jeff Mudrakoff and Nigel Press, at 6 minutes after 1 O’Clock. Nineteen minutes later, Susan Allen and Doug Latornell’s headlights pierced the darkness, followed a few minutes later by relative newcomer Jerome Lavigne.

Unfortunately, Dave Macmurchie was beset by problems and DNFd with a minute to spare at the James Bay control. No doubt this was a disappointment, as he had to throw in the towel on the old route in 2008, at Port Renfrew. Macmurchie will no doubt take a cue from tenacious David Lach, who came 3 times to Tsunami I. After crashing on crumbling Highway 14, in 2005, and abandoning in 2006, he finally evened the score in 2008.

Counting pre-riders Graham Fishlock, Luke Galley and Devon Mihalyi, who did a sterling job checking over this new route for a convalescent route coordinator, 14 completed Tsunami II.

Graham Fishlock was particularly effusive in his assessment, after the pre-ride, calling it a potential “classic ranndonneur cycling loop unparalleled in variety and beauty.” Delirious at the finish, Patrick Wright waxed poetic, saying “It had everything: pleasure and pain, sunshine and rain; it’s a winner!”

Congratulations to all 15 Tsunami II pioneers!

Official Results @ BC Randonneurs | Tsunami II Route @ Bikely

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