Peddle and pamper yourself through Vancouver Island’s Comox Valley with Island Joy Rides

I've lost count of the number of bald eagles that have crossed my path. Or, rather, I’ve crossed theirs. I’m on the sheltered bit of sublime seashore that edges the Comox Valley on Vancouver Island’s west coast. This is the eagles’ home, and I’m the visitor here, happily exploring their turf on two wheels. And, while they may have an impressive wingspan for gliding, I’m doing my own version with a bike.

Cycling the Comox Valley coastline may be the best way to take in my feathered friends and their environs. On a bike, I’m going slow enough to not miss the swoop of wide wings above (or the flutter of far-more-delicate butterfly wings atop roadside wildflowers), but fast enough to take in a good chunk of this still rural yet rather sophisticated valley.

Take a Joy Ride through the Comox Valley


Countless bald eagles call the Comox Valley coastline their home (Image: Barb Sligl)

I’m here with Island Joy Rides, a local bike-touring company offering itineraries that criss-cross from Campbell River and Quadra Island to Courtenay and Cumberland, and from driftwood-dotted beaches to a bucolic blueberry farm. Now in its second season, it’s the venture of two joyful (of course!) women who’ve translated their love of cycling and this region into the aptly named Island Joy Rides.

Kim Barry and Laurel Cronk, friends who finish each other’s sentences, wrote down 10 things as part of an exercise to see what made them "come alive." The same words popped up: biking, hiking, great food and wine, exploring fresh experiences and places, new and old friendships, taking the time to appreciate the small stuff, paying it forward, good health and swimming outside.

“As we read our lists to each other we had to laugh at the similarities. It was as if an active travel company jumped off the page,” says Barry. And it did. Now they share the hidden gems of their seaside home, riding alongside with groups on itineraries (like Tour de Spa, West Coast Foodie, Edge of the Islands) that include a healthy dose of those "come alive" things.

I’ve joined them for the Tour de Spa, a sweet mix of exertion and relaxation. We start at the April Point Resort and Spa, an idyllic spot on Quadra Island that’s reached by ferry across Discovery Passage. En route, not only do I see those eagles, but plenty of seals, bobbing amidst seaweed and waiting for the discards of post-salmon-catch cleaning (there are also plenty of fishers around here).

Biking Quadra includes stops at local potters and artists (including an eccentric character who creates life-like casts of fantastical-looking deep-sea creatures), a snack break at Rebecca Spit Marine Provincial Park (full-of-goodness energy treats made by Cronk), and lunch outdoors at the almost-century-old Heriot Bay Inn (my pick: flaky fish and chips).

Peddle and Pamper


Taking a load off at Rebecca Spit Marine Provincial Park (Image: Barb Sligl)

Post-ride, back at April Point, a massage in the sanctuary-on-stilts spa (the building seems to be floating on water) loosens up my limbs. Over dinner, I watch cruise ships go by and indulge in fresh and local seafood, from classic clam chowder to sushi.

The next two days bring more of the same, sailing back across Discovery Passage to the Comox Valley where the bike route includes a picnic at Blue Moon Estate Winery paired with fruit wine made from organic blueberries grown right here, and then a calorie-burning ride past scenery that mixes old-school farmland and weathered-wood fences with artisan chocolates in Courtenay and an innovative art gallery in a heritage building in Cumberland.

In the charming, one-street town of Cumberland, a homemade lemonade in a mason jar at Tarbell’s Café feels like a taste of the Comox Valley itself – all about reinvigorated roots.

This being a pedal-and-pamper experience, I get a wine-paired and locally sourced dinner (including chowder with generous dollops of wild salmon and melt-in-your-mouth pork belly) and another spa treatment while staying at the Kingfisher Oceanside Resort and Spa. The Hydropath treatment is like a celebration of the “wet coast,” from pounding waterfalls and gurgling tubs to soft rainfall and a salty scrub-down – all in a fantastical underground oasis that’s a little kitsch and a lot reinvigorating after logging those roadie miles.

My mileage after three days of riding: about 120 km. Enough to break a sweat while keeping my eye on the eagles. Yet, despite my pedalling, my gut may have actually expanded. That could have something to do with the bevy of treats provided before, during and after each ride – from tasty trail mix to the icy beer handed to me at the end of each ride (I can’t resist the locally brewed Sea Dog Amber Ale).

It’s like one of Island Joy Ride’s mottos: "Powered by you. Pampered by us!" Indeed.

Try the delicious pork belly meal at the Kingfisher Oceanside Resort & Spa (Image: Barb Sligl)