John Crouch has a hard time sitting still sometimes.
About four years ago, the Fairfield resident and his wife went to Orcas Island for a cycling and camping adventure, and were drawn to the island for its challenging hills. One hill is more than 2,000 feet high, boasting an eight kilometre climb with an average grade of eight per cent, but the views, said Crouch, are well worth the pain.
While meandering on roads that were off the beaten path, Crouch was struck with the idea of writing a guide book for cycling the hilly landscape of the San Juan and Gulf islands — a string of islands cradled in the southern waters of the Salish Sea archipelago, bisected by the Canada-U.S. border.
“Being in Victoria, it’s very easy to get onto the Gulf Islands. I’ve lived most of my life on islands so it was something I have a great affinity for,” said the 75-year-old, who moved to Victoria from England about 25 years ago. “You are in a typical forest, beautiful conifers, it’s a twisty road. You could be in the mountains on any of the West Coast hills.”
Cycling the Islands features more than 30 adventures on 12 different islands that include Salt Spring, Pender, Mayne, Galiano, Gabriola, Denman and Hornby in Canada, and San Juan, Lopez, Orcas and Shaw in the United States. Each route includes a map and detailed information on various things such as the local history, topography, type of road, level of difficulty, start and end points, and checkpoints along the way. The rides range from under an hour to all day affairs.
Crouch did his homework before writing the book, studying maps and visiting a number of the islands throughout his 25 years living in Canada. At one point, he lived on Denman Island for 12 years. The book, he said, gave him a good excuse to do more touring.
Although Crouch has many stories to share from his island biking adventures that were spent exploring beautiful bays, inlets and villages, one experience that sticks out most was on Lopez Island. After walking through a dense forest with their bikes, he and his wife stopped for a picnic overlooking the ocean and saw a gray whale pop out of the water, creating a wave of excitement amongst the pair.
Aside from the wildlife encounters, one of the things Crouch likes most about cycling the islands is the lack of traffic and friendly people.
“People on the islands, by and large, treat cyclists very well. It’s almost obligatory for motorists to wave at the cyclists,” said Crouch, who typically spends four or five days exploring an island. His favourite spot is Helliwell Provincial Park on Hornby.
“It’s absolutely spectacular. That’s where I want my ashes strewn.”
Cycling the Islands marks Crouch’s fifth book. His previous books include: Bike Victoria (2012), Walk Victoria (2009) and Hike Victoria (2008), along with a memoir, Six Highways to Home: A Cycling Journey from Whitehorse to Victoria (2014).
As a hiker and climber, Crouch has summited Mount Rainier, Mount Whitney, Mount Baker and Vancouver Island’s highest peak, the Golden Hinde. He’s also competed in 16 marathons, where he finished first in two of them for his category, and had a podium finish in his first Ironman Canada in 2005.
But Crouch isn’t done exploring the world quite yet. This summer he’ll be hiking through the French Alps for two weeks, followed by another week of hiking in England.
“I like to be active,” said Crouch. “That’s always been very important for me.”