Salt Spring Island is the largest and most populated of British Columbia’s Southern Gulf Islands. This little island has a reputation for nurturing a home gown, hand crafted community of artisans, food producers and beverage architects. It’s home to two wineries, a brewery and a cider house — and I wanted to visit them all, in one day, by bicycle.
The question: Can we ride from Maple Bay and stop at the four big artisan beverage producers on the island?
The answer: Yeah, we probably can, but not this time.
The crew for this intrepid adventure included Holly and Miranda. In the past couple of years I’ve had the pleasure of growing my network in Cowichan to include just some fantastic people who just say yes. Want to learn to mountain bike? Yes. Want to go canoeing in a marsh? Yes. Want to go hiking at sunset? Yes. Want to bike all day on Salt Spring? Yes.
I can’t actually remember why we decided to do this bike trip. I think it just sounded like a fun way to spend a Sunday.
We set off from Maple Bay and cycled around our mountain to Crofton. From here we caught the ferry to Vesuvius. By the time we boarded the ferry, we had only traveled seven kilometres, but already had two flat tires, one broken growler, and three hungry ladies. It was clear from the start that our ambitions might go unrealized.
Our first stop from the ferry terminal was 16-kilometres away, and we already knew that we weren’t going to make it without food. The three granola bars Holly remembered to pack needed to be saved as emergency rations. It was agreed that we would stop for fuel in Ganges, which was agreeable to all of us because the Oyster Catcher makes an incredible double spicy Caesar: the perfect drink for a mild June morning.
We split a salmon charcuterie board — because we’re ladies — and we mentally prepared ourselves for the long climb out of Ganges. Cyclists know Salt Spring as a notoriously hilly island. Some riders come here just to ride around for the day doing “hill training.” We were not here to do hill training, we were here for the alcohol, the hills were just in the way.
The hill out of Ganges is beastly. It’s steep and long, with just enough bend in the road that you can never quite see the top until you’re there. All you can do is put your head down, and don’t ever assume that you’ve almost made it. You’ll never make it, the hill is too big, you’re not going to get there, you can’t do it. And then you do!
When we rode up the long gravel driveway to Garry Oaks’ tasting room, I felt a huge sense of accomplishment. We had finally made it to our first stop. Yes, we were already tired and an hour behind schedule, but we were actually doing it. And the wine at Garry Oaks is so good. I’m not going to pretend that I know how to describe wine, but I can say we enjoyed the Zweigelt, Theseus and purchased a bottle of the Ariadne Rose.
Back on the bikes, we cruised down to Salt Spring Ales. This is an adorable little brewery that is pumping all summer long. Salt Spring Ales produces a long beer list and brew some rich winter ales (including a Creme Brûlée Stout!). We ordered a flight that featured a Nettle Ale -- yes, it's a beer made from locally foraged stinging nettle, BC honey, and their natural spring water. It’s smooth with just enough sweetness. I bought a meowler of it (what I’m now calling a small growler). While relaxing and procrastinating at their picnic tables, we also dug into Holly’s stash of granola bars.
Now with heavier bags and bodies, we picked up the bikes and rode back up the hill to Salt Spring Vineyard. All three of these stops are within a couple kilometres from each other, so the cycling time is relatively low. However, the vineyard is up a steep hill from the brewery. By this time we were hill experts and were unphased by the incline. Just kidding — it was brutal. And worth it.
Salt Spring Vineyards is an idyllic scene with a tasting room inside a heritage farmhouse. They’ve created a picnic paradise, with options to lounge on their lawn next to the pond or pick a seat on the patio. We stayed up on the patio and destroyed a plate of charcuterie (comprised of all local offerings). As Holly says, “ladies be charcutering,” and we were.
It was on the patio of the Salt Spring Vineyard that we officially came to terms with the fact that we were not going to make it to the last stop (Wild Cider, 11 kilometres away). It was 5:00pm and it was looking like the best we could have done was get there fifteen minutes before they closed.
We opted to take our time, enjoy the wine and cruise back to the ferry.
But we had one last stop — which should be everyone’s last stop — the fish and chips place in Vesuvius. Want to see three ladies devour a plate of calamari and six pieces of deep fried fish? Just make them ride 42-kilometres fuelled only by charcuterie and beer carbs. It was the perfect end to a fabulous day of riding.
And dangit, we didn’t accomplish our goal. Looks like we’ll have to try again.