The next day, I was debating with myself about taking a planned circle tour of the island on my bike, mostly to see the ancient petroglyphs that are down at the other end. I fought with myself about it, I was tired, I could always see them next time. But I thought to myself, what would my new friend/hitchhiking buddy say if I wussed out?
According to the description on Car-Free BC, the petroglyphs are quite faded and eroded from years of exposure to people taking rubbings of them, weather, and worst, people just walking right on top of them. The best time to go see them is later in the day, when the sun is not directly overhead and shadows throw the shallow carvings into relief.
To keep traffic to the originals to a minimum, Gabriola’s museum has created a petroglyph park on its grounds with reproductions of the petroglyphs, so people can take rubbings and pictures. As a former student of archaeology, however, I wanted to see the real thing.
I kept looking at the map, measuring the distance. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to ride the hill out of the campground. But off I went, convincing myself it would be alright as long as the road generally sloped downhill (it didn’t). I rode on and on, past fields, houses, the golf course, with occasional glimpses of the sea. The site turned out to be 12 km away. Still, riding was a good way to see the island, and drivers on Gabriola are pretty good about giving cyclists room on the road.
By the time I found the site, which is located behind the United Church on South Road, I didn’t think I wanted to ride back. At all. A couple other tourists rode up in a SUV that looked like it might fit a tired girl and her bike. They avoided eye contact – maybe they knew what I was thinking.
I walked up the path, which leads into a field of dry grasses and flat outcroppings. I walked around the outcroppings, most of which appeared to be blank. I came all this way for this? I thought. But there was no rush – if I waited and looked long enough, the petroglyphs might begin to reveal themselves. Magically, they did.
Note: I have enhanced these images a little bit to make them easier to see.
Others were less obvious, and could really only be seen with the help of a bit of shadow. I found that sometimes looking through them through the camera helped pick them up:
Still others seemed to be only partly visible, though after the fact, I could reasonably identify with the help of a catalogue put together by the museum and the local First Nations band:
After taking a few passes through the park, and feeling suitable outrage at the sight of a family tromping merrily over the rocks as they walked through the area, I had no choice but to get back on the bike. Rather than backtrack, I decided to cut up Peterson Road and return to the campsite via North Road. There are several pretty bays and such to visit on that end of the island, but I was feeling too tired to make the effort.
North Road cuts through a nature preserve and is a scenic ride with trees arching over the road. Lots of shade for a sweaty cyclist. But for the most part, it slightly inclines upwards, and I was feeling defeated by every hill. There were relatively small hills that I would go into first gear for, spinning my way up, before jumping off and pushing the bike, cursing. Trucks and vans passed me and I thought about hitching, but damn this sense of self-sufficiency that started me on the road in the first place. Mostly, I tried to think about the wine and cheese (Baby Bel!) I had waiting back at the campsite.
About halfway back, the road finally started to slope downwards again… whee! I went spinning down past farms and houses before FUUUCK! a huge hill. But at the top was the little town centre, and beyond that, the steep hill down to the ferry terminal and nearby, camp. I made it!
I was so tired, I didn’t even feel like going swimming. I rested, I ate cheese and crackers, drank that wine, and watched the sun go down from right out on the head of the bay. Perhaps three days of sunset-watching is overkill, but how often do you watch sunsets at home?
Speaking of home I was ready – for a hot bath, a hot meal, and a comfy bed. Note to self: stuffing clothing in a pillowcase may save space, but it doesn’t make for excellent sleep. In the morning, I again methodically packed up camp, ate up most of my leftover food, and strapped the load to the bike, which I still didn’t feel much like riding.
I again rode the pathway between ferry terminals, still clogged by the oldies and mamas with their broods, with a strong headwind for extra fun. This time, it was the thought of a hot cup of coffee on the ferry that kept my legs pumping.
Donovan met me at Horseshoe Bay, took my bike and removed the baggage. I was happy to see him again. I may soon be able to get back on the bike, too.