By Neville Judd Contributing writer
The noise of traffic on Highway 17 becomes a distant hum from the boardwalk at Swan Lake. A few moments earlier we had looked down on Victoria's four-wheeled commuters as we pedalled across the freeway overpass. Now it was time for a picnic breakfast under a sprawling Garry Oak with nothing but dragonflies, butterflies and song birds for company.
This, we discovered, was the beauty of the Galloping Goose Trail: Solitude amid so much bustle. Not that the trail itself had been empty. Walkers, parents with strollers, in-line bladers and people in motorized wheelchairs all found their own speeds among a steady stream of cyclists. Horse riding is popular on the trail's more rural reaches, around Metchosin and Sooke.
We dropped onto the trail at the west end of the Johnson Street Bridge in downtown Victoria and stopped counting the cyclists en route by the time we crossed the Gorge on the 300-metre-long Selkirk Trestle. Built from fir and hemlock, the trestle spans the narrow saltwater inlet which once lured Victoria's wealthiest residents.
"The waterway at the turn of the century was Victoria's most highly-praised scenic attraction," according to author Dennis Minaker, in his book, The Gorge of Summers Gone . At the turn of the 20th century, mansions lined the waterway, which in summer was alive with swimmers and regattas.
These days warehouses and construction sites line the route but within minutes of crossing the trestle, lush poplars and rambling willows mellowed the industrial view. Each day, more than 2,000 commuters use this 100-kilometre trail, which connects Victoria with Sidney to the north and Sooke in the west.
Named after a noisy 1920s gasoline-powered passenger car that plied the abandoned Canadian National Railway line, the Galloping Goose is built upon abandoned rail beds and trestles, and neatly connects southern Vancouver Island's past with its present. It's also part of the 7,000-mile Trans-Canada Trail.
No sooner had we breezed through a verdant belt of Queen Anne's lace, Nootka rose and sword ferns than we weaved past a forklift truck driver on the fringes of an industrial park. We stopped under a railway arch to admire a colourful mural depicting awestruck faces looking to the heavens a welcome contrast to the tagging and graffiti ever-present in the trail's urban stretches.
The trail crossed five roads in all before we stepped off our bikes at Swan Lake-Christmas Hill Nature Sanctuary in Saanich. Muskrat, river otter and mink can all be found in the marshes surrounding the lake that 30 years ago was a dumping ground for raw sewage. Clean-up started in the 1970s and a charitable society now runs educational programs at the lake and the meadows surrounding Christmas Hill.
The area's also a haven for birds and birdwatchers: Blue Herons, Cooper's and Sharp-shinned hawks, and Spotted Towhee are present year-round. In the winter, you'll see Hooded Mergansers, Lesser Scaups, Ring-necked ducks, Northern Shovelers and Green-winged Teal.
After a fine meal of beer bread from Victoria's Spinnakers Pub and six-year-old cheddar from nearby Cheese Pointe Farm, we gorged ourselves on blackberries.
A heavily tattooed cyclist appeared among the long grass and looked around expectantly. "Oh, a dead-end," he said disappointedly.
He'd disappeared back onto the trail before we could tell him: "You don't have to do it all in one go."
For maps and information about the Galloping Goose Trail, visit www.gallopinggoosetrail.com
The Royal B.C. Museum's Eternal Egypt exhibit has prompted numerous Victoria hotels to offer accommodation deals for the duration of the show, which ends Oct. 31. The Delta Victoria Ocean Pointe Resort and Spa is a stone's throw from the Galloping Goose Trail and currently offers a one-night "Mummy package" for two adults and two children, complete with Egyptian themed welcome bags for children, Mummy tales at night with milk and cookies, in-room movie, in-room continental breakfast and valet parking. Call 1-888-244-8666 or visit www.deltahotels.com
For more information about Victoria, call Tourism Victoria at 1-800-663-3883 or visit www.tourismvictoria.com