Bikepacking to Backpacking : Sunshine Coast Trail

Saltery Bay, Upper Sunshine Coast, British Columbia / July 27, 2020

“Swing back in two weeks and I promise we’ll be open,” he said, waving us goodbye. “We’ll hold you to that,” we yelled back as we rolled off into the distance.

DJ was the new owner of Saltery Bay’s roadside ‘Snack Shack’ where Mat and I had mowed down two double cheeseburgers and an extra large order of crispy, salted french fries five years earlier on our first cross Canada bike trip. The little red and white hut had been a bustling hub on the side of the highway that forever held a special place in our hearts.

Filling our bellies at the Saltery Bay Snack Shack in 2015 on our cross Canada bike trip.

But today it stood still. Windows boarded up from the detriments of the pandemic, the picnic tables lonely and abandoned, it was missing out on the usual Sunshine Coast sightseers and hungry passerbys. The little burger shack that could, just couldn’t right now. However, DJ had assured us that things were picking up and he’d be back to flipping grub in no time.

His promise of perfectly seasoned meat patties and fresh cut fries warmed our hearts, knowing full well we’d be crossing the ‘Snack Shacks’ path in two weeks’ time after swapping out our bikes and taking on a multi-day thru-hiking mission along the breathtakingly beautiful Sunshine Coast Trail (SCT).

One of the many stunning mountain vistas along the Sunshine Coast Trail in BC.

Four weeks and seventeen hundred kilometres ago, we had departed our impermanent pandemic pad in the heart of Nelson, BC with two lightweight backpacks rolled up and stuffed in the bottom of our bike panniers. We were meanderingly bound for British Columbia’s bountiful West Coast.

Our goal was to thoroughly explore a rugged and remote network of gravel roads, dirt paths and bike trails that we’d been plotting for years and disappear into the woods for as long as our hearts desired. So far, our mission had been accomplished.

Being that we also loved trekking around by foot on the forgiving forest floor, we decided to cap off the bikepacking mission with a backpacking adventure, roaming along the aforementioned Sunshine Coast Trail, giving our bodies (and butts) a little break from the saddle. That goal was suddenly in our grasp, so we carried on burger-less, but ultimately unscathed.

Sharing an entry point with our bike route, we doubled back to the southern SCT trailhead where our hike would eventually end and stopped on the wooden benches to have a quick snack and share a cannabis smoke. We knew the path ahead of us was bound to get rough and tumble and at least a wee bit steep. We wanted to be well fuelled for the journey.

Following the bikepacking route for the Powell River Sampler, we crushed up the initial logging road, bobbing and weaving along the gravel switchbacks and traversing the elongated mountain side. The wide angle views out and over the surreal Salish Sea were absolutely stupefying.

Looking down the Salish Sea from the logging roads along the Powell River Sampler Route.

By the time we made our way up, up, up and around Mount Troubridge (with a few accidental detours) and down to the shoreline of Lois Lake, we were good and tired. Having ridden, or rather, walked our bikes along sea-sawing sections of the SCT that were designed with hiking rather than for biking in mind, we had really tested our patience and fitness.

Rewarded by the vast expanse of a soft, sandy beach all to ourselves with delectable fresh water lapping at the shore and mountainous views along the horizon, it was certainly worth the work.

A sunny landing spot on Lois Lake where we set up shop for the night. No one else was around.
Sunset from our soft, sandy tent spot along the shores of Lois Lake, BC

We rose early the next morning, eager to dip down to the highway past Eagle River Falls and treat ourselves to a much needed resupply at the Lang Bay Store. As we sat outside snacking on salty trail mix and plotting the next leg of our route, I felt my phone faintly buzz. It was our friend Lucas who had just arrived on the Upper Sunshine Coast and was headed our way. No sooner did I tell him where we were than he and his girlfriend Lori rolled up behind us, laughing and waving from the front seat of their truck.

Lucas was born and raised here, in Powell River and we had re-connected back in Nelson over a convo about summer plans. He told us he was going to be on the Coast at the same time we were passing through, so we took advantage of the serendipitous timing. We asked if he would be willing to bring us our homemade, prepackaged food for our ten day hiking trek so that we didn’t have to cart it cross province on our bikes.

He graciously agreed, going above and beyond, offering to drive us all the way to the northernmost terminus for the SCT at the stunningly scenic Sarah Point. We traded him for a delicious breakfast, a bit of gas money and a couple of famous blackberry cinnamon buns from Nancy’s Bakery in Lund. It worked best for them to drop us off two days from today, so we axed the remainder of the Sampler route and bee-lined it highway style into town to stock up for our hike.

Lucas and Lori picked us up on a warm, Wednesday morning in front of our dear friends Megan and Jason’s, who kindly let us stash our pedal bikes at their quaint character home in the Powell River Townsite. They agreed to keep them safe while we went about our next adventure. Our plan was to finish our hike in the south and hitchhike our way back to their place.

The four wheel road to Sarah Point is remote, rocky and rough, so it’s a slow and steady go. It gave us ample opportunity to connect with our company and add Bear #26 to the list of summer sightings along our wilderness travels.

When we finally arrived at the doorstep to the Desolation Sound I could hardly believe the beauty that was before me. The deep blue ocean stretched out forever in front of our eyes, speckled with tiny ocean islands and sea-worthy boats, gliding along the smooth swells of the Strait of Georgia. I almost didn’t want to leave.

Arriving at Sarah Point, BC at the northern tip of the Sunshine Coast Trail.

Here we were at kilometre 0 of the Sunshine Coast Trail, an adventure that had been long awaited on our bucket list of fun.

Standing at the northern terminus of the Sunshine Coast Trail at Sarah Point, BC.

Heading south from here, we would spend the next ten days walking over one hundred and eighty kilometres of immaculately hand carved coastal trail, extending into the high reaches of the alpine majesty and skipping back down through ancient old growth forests with enchanting stands of sturdy Douglas Fir and giant western red cedar.

Fern lined forest trails and massive, magnificent old growth cedars along the Sunshine Coast Trail in BC.

Moving from salty shorelines to fern-lined freshwater lakes, we found ourselves waltzing alongside tiny woodland waterfalls that crowned crisp, canyon creeks.

Tiny woodland waterfalls that crowned the crisp, canyon creeks along the Sunshine Coast Trail.

Sheltered by long boughed cedars and electric green lichens, we feasted on nature’s abundance of wild running blackberries, bountiful blueberries, mountain huckleberries and low lying salals. We were sure this was heaven.

We hit the berry season just right, adding lots of lucious blackberries, blueberries, huckleberries and salmonberries to our hiking fare.

Everyday we explored a new, handbuilt hut, meticulously crafted by the likes of a small but dedicated team of volunteer nature lovers and hiking enthusiasts, some of whom we were blessed enough to meet and thank. They were easily two and a half times our senior.

The Sunshine Coast Trail is Canada’s longest hut to hut hiking trail, with multiple immaculately crafted cabins and composting toilets, perfectly spaced along the way.

These literal trailblazers had envisioned this incredible dream and despite the rallying resistance and negative naysayers, brought it to fruition with grace and grit. Every step of the trail was a treasure.

Camping under the glowing fireballs in the starlit sky, we felt at home in the dirt and the moss.

Camping at Rieveley Pond along the Sunshine Coast Trail in BC.

We refreshed our sun-baked, sweat-stained skin in the cooling waters of the creeks and lakes and drank from the rushing streams.

Washing our sun-baked, sweat-stained skin at Rainy Lake on the Sunshine Coast Trail.

We met a handful of incredible humans, all seeking the same solace and serenity in the canopy of the trees.

Our last night along the Sunshine Coast Trail, we watched two orcas make their way across the bay, breaching in the sparkling sea water.

By the time we arrived at kilometre 180, we’d enjoyed ourselves so much that we debated turning north and retracing our steps.

Arriving at kilometre one hundred and eighty, the southernmost terminus of the Sunshine Coast Trail near Saltery Bay, BC.

Alas, we had travel plans to meet family in the coming week, so we exited stage right and headed for the highway. After all, there were burgers to be had.

Half a kilometre from the ferry off-ramp, we watched the last of the cars whiz off up the windy road, leaving little signs of life until the next sailing arrived a few hours in the future. “Oh well,” we sighed, “it’s only another 30 kilometre walk to Powell River.”

As we breached the Snack Shack, I looked down at my watch and then back up at the boarded up windows. “Only 9 AM,” I said to myself, “Probably too early for a burger baron to be grilling.”

We continue along the shoulder of the highway, mixed with the bittersweet emotions that can arise after an adventure has been realized. As if matching our internal turbulence, the sunny skies began to release large droplets of freshwater tears from the emerging clouds on high.

In the faint distance, I heard a low sputtering sound rolling up the road behind us. I turned around and held out my thumb, hopeful for the like-hearted spirit of the solitary car. As he slowed to a stop on the shoulder of the highway, the smiles on our faces grew wide.

Far better than him flipping us burgers was DJ the driver our legend extraordinaire, the man on a morning mission, who was kind enough to graciously shuttle us up the Sunshine Coast, all the way back to our bikes.

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