The town of Sooke is just a few kilometers off km 40 of the Galloping Goose Trail on Vancouver Island. This trail is one of the finest cycling trails in the world, and heavily used by cycling tourists. Yet the District of Sooke’s website shows a dazzling ignorance of the very existence of this trail and the potential tourists on it. The website simply states that “the District of Sooke is a short 35 minute drive from downtown Victoria”. No mention that for cyclists, it is accessible from the Goose. That should of been our first clue!
We visited Sooke on bicycles in early fall. We were exploring the Galloping Goose Trail, and staying in a B&B just a few kilometers from Sooke. We decided to visit Sooke, as we naively assumed that being so close to the Goose, the town would have provided infrastructure for the hordes of cycling tourists that could be expected.
We were wrong.
Still, there were some good things in Sooke, so here is my list of pros and cons, should you decide to visit Sooke when next you are on the Galloping Goose.
The Visitor Centre/Museum/Art Gallery: As you enter Sooke, you will come across an interesting little building that houses the Sooke Information Centre, as well as a tiny historical museum and art gallery. The building is surrounded by a lovely garden, and adjacent to the oldest standing building in Sooke, carefully preserved – Moss Cottage, built in 1870.
There is also a tree ring from a Douglas-fir that dates to 745 AD. The museum has been meticulously assembled by the Sooke Historical Society, and includes many fascinating artefacts from bygone days in rural BC – both Coast Salish and more recent settlers. All well worth a visit.
Serious Coffee: This is a little coffee shop at one of the strip malls besides the main road. It serves good coffee, and you can sit outside and keep an eye on your bike. The lone bike parking stand is usually empty, as there are few bikes in Sooke.
That about does it for the pros of Sooke.
Cons of Sooke
Access: To get to Sooke from the Galloping Goose Trail, you need to leave the trail at around km 40 and head west on Sooke Road. But be warned: there is no cycling infrastructure at all; sometimes there is not even a shoulder to cycle on. Also, motorists treat Sooke Road like a highway, hurtling down towards the town in speeds in excess of 100 km per hour. We felt very vulnerable on this road.
The Welcoming Committee: For a while our cycle went quite well in Sooke, despite the lack of infrastructure. Motorists were polite and courteous. But then the positive impression was destroyed by a jerk in a giant pick-up truck who buzzed Maggie and me while honking loudly, and then roared away in a cloud of fumes, giving us the finger. As if the lack of infrastructure was our fault! What a cowardly jerk!
Whiffen Spit Park: We soldiered on to Whiffen Spit Park, because we had heard great things about it. By the time we got there we had cycled 15 km, sometimes in danger. Imagine our dismay to find it was all a waste of time, as there was a NO BIKES sign outside the park, plus there was no bike parking provided!
So we could not even lock up the bikes and walk in, and we had cycled 15 km for nothing! (Although afterwards we reflected we probably could have left the bikes lying unlocked in the parking lot outside, as clearly no one in Sooke would WANT a bike!) In any event, I cannot comment on what this Park is like, as Maggie and I were effectively excluded from entering.
They might as well put up a NO CYCLISTS sign next to the NO BIKES sign at Whiffen Spit Park!
Restaurants: We did not follow our plan to have lunch in Sooke, because we would not have been able to relax knowing that we still needed to face the challenge of getting safely out of Sooke. We ended up going back up towards the trail and having lunch at a restaurant called Fuse, right on the water (Sooke Basin), and just 100 m from the Galloping Goose Trail. Sublime food at average prices, decent wine selection – try the Sovereign Opal before you die – and great service.
I was however amazed that despite being just a stone’s throw from the Galloping Goose Trail, this restaurant also has no bike parking! We made do by sitting outside where we could watch the bikes, cable locked to a small fence.
So what’s up with Sooke and bicycles?
I noted at the beginning that Sooke seems to be unaware of the existence of cycling tourists. After our near-death experiences in the town, I think perhaps it’s a good thing that Sooke is not actively encouraging cycling tourists – after all, cyclists’ lives are in danger from the moment they come near Sooke.
In fact, it would probably be appropriate for Sooke District to put up a sign at the outskirts of their village warning cyclists that they are not welcome and risk death if they enter Sooke!
It seems that, like many small towns, Sooke has not yet realized the tourism potential of providing decent infrastructure for cyclists and actually welcoming them. Bizarre, seeing as they are just five km from one of the finest cycling trails in the world, and considering that every time we have stayed neared Sooke, the entire B&B has been full of cyclists just looking for places to spend money.
On the other hand, I heard a rumour from a very reputable source that Sooke’s Mayor, Janet Evans, is considering extending the Galloping Goose Trail to Sooke. That would be a very wise idea. While we passed dozens of cyclists on the Galloping Goose, we saw none at all in Sooke.
Providing a safe way to get to Sooke would enable the little town to enjoy the benefit of a lot more tourist dollars.
Many Baby Boomers want active vacations
There is a steadily building tidal wave of baby boomers (such as us) looking to have active vacations and spend money. Making a town attractive to cyclists therefore makes sound economic sense. It would be great if the Galloping Goose popped out at the Sooke Information Centre. Then all that would be needed is a bike lane down the main street (West Coast Road) from that point. Also, it would be great if the town developed a safe way to get to Whiffen Spit – and of course, put some bike parking in the car park there! At the moment, Whiffen Spit is nothing but a slap in the face for cycling tourists.
Let’s just hope that the Mayor of Sooke is indeed planning to make Sooke safe for cyclists. In the meantime, my advice to people thinking of exploring Sooke by bike: DON’T!
POSTSCRIPT: Here is the District of Sooke’s encouraging response.
Here are some posts about trails that are actually FUN to ride.