North to Sayward on the (snow free!) Backroads

After this interminable, cold, wet winter (is it really finished ...?!), I figured that the interior of Vancouver Island might finally have shed the deep snows and be ready for some good riding. I was right (yahoo!). Read on for a ride from Campbell River NW into the backroads, looping north to join up with the Island Highway at the village of Sayward.

First real backroads tour on new Surly ECR 29+ bike packer

This was my chance for a 1st real backroads tour on my new Surly 29'+ bikepacking bike, after several shorter island rides (Texada, Hornby). I'm still sorting the gear and loading out, still packed for winter just in case, but really liking the feel of things. This shot is along Loveland Bay Main, heading into the incredible cluster of lakes, backroads and Recreation campsites NW of Campbell River. See postscript note below for some impressions on riding on fat tires.

About 20kms out from Campbell River along well maintained public dirt roads, I reached Loveland Bay Provincial Park on the NW arm of Campbell Lake. It doesn't open for the season until May 12, but I stopped to have a look about. There are 31 vehicle accessible campsites. Well treed and maintained. Trails nearby. And, of course, water sports, including docks and a fine swimming beach. See pic below.

Then it was off west again, passing a succession of big and small Rec campsites along Campbell, Fry and Gray Lakes, mostly empty. I was on my way to Brewster Lake, where the roads branch NW up towards my destination, Sayward.

I should really know better, but somehow I managed to forget one of the basic rules of backroads camping near towns: it was Easter long weekend and there are time honoured traditions amongst the young folks to head out and blow off steam in the back woods. Around South Brewster Lake, there's a bunch of Rec Camp sites designed as large clearings where a number of RVs and other vehicles and tents can all be set up close together. Not surprisingly, this is perfect for partying.

This small, light little boat (above) had a turbo-charged 496 racing engine crammed into it, spewed exhaust fumes like jet contrails, and sounded like a souped up, muffler free Indy race demon. No doubt, it spooked wildlife & campers 30kms away.

It was raining (sigh) so I set up camp at Camp 5. There was another group in the campsite and the group slowly grew as more quads, dirt bikes, pick-ups and jeeps kept showing up. It was a friendly bunch, and I was offered a boat ride (yikes!), some firewood, and given warning (thank goodness) before some fireworks "bombs" were set off.

This holiday long weekend fest in certain Rec campsites near towns is something I've known about for years. Usually, I'll go more remote, find a smaller place to camp. Or, pick a Provincial campground or bigger Rec site with a host - these have a quieter, more family oriented culture. I now know the party corner in this area NW of Campbell River. Anyway - I put the ear plugs in, and managed a half decent sleep. The next morning I was up early and headed towards Sayward, ~65kms to the north. It was a dry day, perfect for riding.

It was a long weekend so there was almost no truck activity. But, as this pic off Memekay Main shows, there's current cutting in a few spots.

Shortly after crossing the Memekay River along aptly named Airstrip Main (long & straight!), I reached Memekay Horse Camp. There's 11 sites developed for equestrians (other campers can stay if there's room) who are riding the Salmon-Brewster Horse Trail. The site has a large covered shelter, high lines, horse corrals for each campsite, and water troughs. It's maintained by the Back Country Horsemen Society of BC. When I checked the place out there was more pre-chopped & stacked firewood in the covered shelter than I have ever seen in a Rec camp anywhere (see pic). There's a companion horse camp south along Brewster Lake, near where I camped the previous night.

For a time, I rode close to the Salmon River. Check out the rare photo of a river otter below. I've seen them before but never been able to get my camera out fast enough to catch a decent photo. I was walking in along a trail I'd seen, and happened to have my camera at ready. This fellow made a break for the waters, but he was not quite quick enough. I also had a small herd of Roosevelt elk cross the road in front of me. I did manage to get a photo, but only a couple of backsides.

I camped that night at the Rec Campsite along Elk Creek, just north of Sayward junction. The photo below was taken shortly before I reached the campsite and called it a day.

I'd planned to ride into Sayward and the companion port of Kelsey Bay the next day, but the rains were back. So I just hopped on the bike and bombed south back to Campbell River along the highway shoulder. I'll soon be coming back, both to do proper justice to Sayward and Kelsey Bay, but also to tackle the ride down White River Main that goes SW directly to Gold River (rumour has it).

Stay tuned for the next chapter from this fabulous area of the north Island.

Postscript note: Touring on Fat Tires

Here a few thoughts on my new ECR and the big 3+" tires. I recall when I first met a bikepacker with the big tires - my impression was that I wouldn't go that route as the tires were just too heavy and inefficient. I've since found out a few things. First, my thinking used to be conventional wisdom. Second, it turns out you actually pay a very minimal penalty with big tires - in fact, you barely notice. Here's the key evidence .... Around 2005, modern fat bikes were introduced with the Pugsley, a niche model intended for snow and sand. But a funny thing happened over time, and today you'll see that fat bikes have gone mainstream, with countless mountain bikers and downhillers choosing one for their regular ride, often with no suspension, simply big grippy tires at low pressure. A major reason this has happened is precisely because riders realized they weren't paying much of a performance hit. That's exactly what I have been discovering.

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