Parker got a bike for his birthday so this Easter weekend we biked Saturna Island!
Saturna Island is the most remote and undeveloped of the Southern Gulf Islands- it took three hours and two ferries to get there on a Friday morning. The first ferry took us from Tsawassen to Swartz Bay, and the second from Swartz Bay to Saturna. There’s a more direct route to the island in the evening, but we were only going for the day. The ferry for Swartz Bay left at 7AM and BC Ferries advised us to arrive a full hour before the ferry, to ensure we got on. According to Parker, I neglected to mention that we needed to wake up at 5AM in order to get to the ferry terminal in time.. my bad.
We had four hours of sleep and no caffeine, but the ride to the terminal woke us up. Most importantly, we beat Google Maps’ ETA. It was still dark out when we left but the sun started to come up as we got close to the terminal. Very beautiful! I don’t have any pictures- didn’t want to try and handle my phone on the thin shoulder beside the ferry traffic. The gate for cyclists wasn’t open yet so we biked over to the entry for on-foot passengers and bought our tickets there ($20 per person; ask for a thoroughfare voucher to Saturna).
I always feel excited when I’m up doing things that early, like I’m cheating at life because everyone else is asleep. I was so excited that I passed out immediately after we sat down on the ferry.
The sky became more clear as we got closer to Swartz Bay and by the time we got on the second (much smaller) ferry for Saturna, the sun was fully in the sky and it was WARM! This ferry seemed to be full of mainly locals and only a handful of visitors. We got our first wave of hippy vibes as a guy started doing an intensive yoga routine behind us on the deck of the ferry.
We got to the island around 10AM and hopped on our bikes, headed for East Point. The route from the ferry terminal to East Point is 34km, round trip.
When we originally researched Saturna, multiple sources explicitly described the island as “flat”. For the sake of those readers who haven’t cycled on any of the Gulf Islands before, ‘flat’ means something different there. The first hill was steepest part, and the rest of the cycle was moderate ups and downs, with a general overall feeling of going downhill. It was one of those routes where you feel like you’re going to pay for all the downhill later, on the return trip, but when the return trip comes, it feels downhill, too. I don’t understand it. Where’s the uphill? Maybe that’s what awaits cyclists in the afterlife; one big hill to make up for all the inexplicably downhill bike rides in this life.
We got to East Point in about an hour and a half. We found a trail to the shore, and left our bikes at the trail head, unlocked.
We met a friendly Saturna local, David. He asked us if we were vegetarians and then proceeded to tell us about the Canada Day celebration that takes place every year on the island. It started when an Argentinian guy who was working on one of the lamb farms offered to cook a bunch of lambs, Argentinian-style, if the farm would donate a few. Argentinian-style lamb is where they open up a whole lamb and splay it over a cross and cook it over a fire- makes sense why he wanted to check whether we were vegetarians before explaining that to us… The island has only 300 permanent residents but on Canada day 1500 people show up and the locals all volunteer and together they roast 40 lambs! We might go back for Canada Day. David invited us to come by his house for a cup of tea or a beer, and also gave us directions to a viewpoint to check out on our ride back.
There were a few other visitors at East Point, but mainly local residents, AKA a herd (herd? Pack? Group?) of sea lions lazing on a rock a little ways out in the water, sounding like they all had a serious case of indigestion. We ate lunch and then made like the sea lions (minus the indigestion) and took a nap on the edge of the bluff.
Terrorizing the Wildlife
After waking up to sunburned faces we checked out the small museum on the point, then grabbed our bikes and headed to the viewpoint that David had mentioned. To get to the viewpoint you need to go west down Cliffside Road, until the T-intersection made by Cliffside and Fiddlers Road. Turn left and head down the small trail that kind of looks like someone’s private driveway. There’s a house down there but the viewpoint is to the right.
The ride back to the ferry terminal went by really quickly, and we grabbed a beer at the local (and probably only) pub. There was a moment of panic when Parker thought he had lost his wallet, which would have fitted in with our trend of losing things this trip seeing as I had left my fully loaded pannier in the middle of the road by his house the night before.. (thankfully a kind stranger found it and immediately contacted me on Facebook to return it before we had driven very far)
The ferry showed up around 6:45PM, and we started the trip home. For anyone who wants to make this trip, the ferry ticket system is a bit weird. There’s no place to purchase your ticket on Saturna, we were told to buy them on the ferry from Saturna. One of the ferry hands gave us some passes but when we gave them to the guys on the ferry at Swartz Bay they told us that those kinds of tickets were discontinued, but still let us on. We never paid for anything with the return tickets. We noticed that every cyclist getting on gave a different kind of ticket, so it seems like the system isn’t super uniform.
We napped on the ferry and got into Tsawwassen around 10:00PM, biked home and passed out. (OK, we watched like half an hour of The Simpsons movie..)