The mist shrouded archipelago of Haida Gwaii, moored off the northwest coast of British Columbia, is a great place to ride a bike. It is quiet, uncrowded and terribly peaceful. The locals are wonderfully friendly. The place, girt by wild ocean, is strikingly beautiful.
The archipelago is separated from the mainland by 100 kilometres of shallow, notoriously rough ocean, which traditionally the Haida navigated in dugout canoes, hewn from the monumental red cedars that thrive in the wet temperate climate and rich volcanic soils. If you want to fully explore the islands you’ll need to take to the water. That said, a bike offers easy access to some magic places, at a pace befitting the island’s serenity.
Travelling by bike also encourages interaction with the locals, which for me was really the highlight of Haida Gwaii. The people are thoroughly conscious of their interdependence as island dwellers and seem to go out of their way to honour this fact. In short: everyone is very nice to one another and strangers are made to feel most welcome.
The standard Haida Gwaii cycle trip seems calibrated to the amount of pavement on island, and there’s not much of it — one hundred and twenty kilometres or so and it’s only on Graham Island. There is an extensive network of gravel logging roads, which, although not devoid of beauty, tends to go through country from which the trees have been mercilessly stripped.
(The road to Rennell Sound)
Most bikers allow themselves less than a week on Haida Gwaii, travel light and stay in B&Bs. It’s possible to roll off the overnight ferry from Prince Rupert at Skidegate, at the southeast tip of Graham Island early morning, and be in Masset, 120km away on the north of the island, the same evening. That’s about the extent of the pavement. A few days meandering south will return you to the ferry. (Those in a real hurry fly into or out of Sandspit or Masset.)
But if you follow such a schedule you’ll be gone from the islands before their wonder has percolated beneath your skin. And you’ll miss some really wonderful camping.
Vix and I spent six weeks on Haida Gwaii this spring, arriving on the overnight ferry from Prince Rupert on a frosty mid-April morning. The upper reaches of Sleeping Beauty, the mountain commanding the western skyline above Queen Charlotte City, was still then cloaked in snow, tinged pink on that clear frigid morning. We hung around town for most of the morning drinking coffee, beguiled by the charming, sleepy town.
(120 tonnes of old growth cedar makes it way through a clear cut near Juskutla)
Fair weather was forecast so we hit the grocery store and set off along logging roads for Rennell Sound — the only place on the island’s west coast accessible by road. The campground, nestled at the bottom of an awful slope — the last kilometre angles at 25%
— was deserted save for a few empty caravans. With the wind sweeping fiercely off the Pacific Ocean it felt properly wild and lonely. Just 45 kilometres from “Charlotte” we had found the edge of the earth. Before long, a deep peace overwhelmed us: a stillness that had eluded us during the winter months we’d spent living by a busy road on Vancouver Island.
The rain came soon enough and a couple of days later we returned to Charlotte, covered in mud, and in a new headspace — “on island”. During the weeks that followed we rode about 1200 kilometres around Graham and Moresby Islands, met a remarkable cast of local characters and communed deeply with Haida Gwaii’s wild nature. In the process we became acquainted with its unique culture, prickly politics and peculiar biology. We camped in the woods and in a host of stunning beachside locations; traipsed deep into primordial, lichen draped forest, where spruce, hemlock and cedar reached for the sky, blotting out the sun; watched humpbacks and grey whales; got up close and personal with huge Haida Gwaii black bears; and witnessed the migrations of sandhill cranes, trumpeter swans, white fronted geese, and numerous other bird species that stage in the Masset Inlet on their northerly spring migration.
Wind blew, rain poured, and occasionally the sun shone. The island cast a spell on us
— thoroughly subsuming us in its magic. It was easy to surrender.
(Dave and Vix on Agate Beach)