There are two things powering my way up the winding hill from Courtenay to Comox: fear that I’ll be the laggard among the group of women on this Vancouver Island cycling trip and the encouragement of my guide, Kim.
I slept over at the Old House Village Hotel & Spa so I’d be refreshed for the 10 a.m. start on a guided “Wine and Chocolate by Bike” tour of Comox. From their trailer, Laurel Cronk and Kim Barry, Island Joy Rides co-owners and guides, are dispensing a seemingly endless supply of goodies, from energy bars and Gatorade to handlebar panniers, warm gloves and keepsake water bottles. They’ve set up a line of shiny bikes outside the hotel, each named after one of BC’s Gulf Islands. I hop on Garibaldi and put on gloves. It’s a dry day, but cloudy and cool.
We start out by crossing a bridge over the Courtenay River, stopping to take pictures of the tidal flats and city-circling Beaufort Mountains before tackling the aforementioned hill, happily, the biggest climb on the entire trip. At the top, we race in a line through well-groomed suburbs, taking shortcuts along twisting dirt trails, emerging at a spectacular viewpoint overlooking Goose Spit. We wind past the Blackfin Pub to the Comox Harbour Marina, parking our bikes briefly at Filberg Heritage Lodge and Park, home of the famous Filberg Festival.
En route, we’re fuelled by Laurel’s homemade Energy Balls. At a designated “Joy Tree,” we write happy affirmations on colourful ribbons and tie them to the branches for others to read. Later, a tiny herd of alpacas runs to greet us, batting their fringed lashes and baring their horse-like teeth as we feed them apple slices supplied by our guides.
It’s high fives all around on arrival at Blue Moon Estate Winery, our reward after the day’s thrilling, heart-thumping ride. At a massive wooden tasting table, we’re served a buttery, off-dry apple-pear wine alongside Natural Pastures award-winning local cheeses. Our host George Ehrler whips up an elegant meal of fruit crepes, served with velvety “Dark Side” blackberry wine that he laughingly calls “bottled sex.”
Last stop is a taste-tour of Hot Chocolates in downtown Courtenay. Laurel and Kim load up our bikes and drive us back to where high-end artisanal chocolates, hand-dipped truffles, fudge, and up to 24 flavours of gelato are all made in-house.
Island Joy Rides books group tours from mid-June to mid-September and private tours year-round.
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