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Singletrack to Sea: An adventure to the edge of Canada

“Arnie, you can come out now," I said, flicking off the ignition and stretching out my legs for the first time in a few hours. We had just arrived on the main street of Cumberland, BC, a small logging town-turned mountain biking mecca in the Comox Valley of Vancouver Island, on the traditional territory of the Coast Salish, K’ómoks, We Wai Kum, We Wai Kai and Tla’amin Nations. 

A quick glance up and down the street revealed that Cumberland had all the essentials of a perfect dog-friendly bike destination: a taco shop, a coffee shop, a bike shop, a brewery, and a world-class network of dog-friendly singletrack, right off the main street. I was stoked.

Arnie, on the other hand, was barely visible in the back of my car, hiding under my bike and a mountain of camping gear. Despite enthusiastically undertaking a plethora of high-adrenaline mountain pursuits and logging thousands of miles with me across North America, he is yet to be convinced of the merits of road trips. The white tip of his tail flapped twice, he slithered out from his hiding spot and we went in search of our friend Rob and a dose of Cumberland’s best coffee to start the day. 

Arnie and I had set off from our home in Canmore, Alberta, a week before. Canmore is on Treaty 7 territory, traditional lands of the Stoney Nakoda, Blackfoot, and Tsuut’ina Nations. We'd road-tripped across British Columbia, meeting up with our friend Briony for a few days of spectacular alpine riding in Revelstoke and Nelson, before driving west to Vancouver. We found that Arnie’s Flagline harness made the perfect bike-dog attire – it’s lightweight and the handle was really helpful to control Arnie when we passed other dogs and bikers. 

mountain biker rides dirt trail through open forest with dog following behind

After stopping in Vancouver for the night, we caught the BC Ferry across the Georgia Strait to Nanaimo, a crossing that usually offers spectacular views of the Gulf Islands and a chance to see Orcas and dolphins. This year, we were asked to stay in our cars but were lucky enough to secure an ideal position at the front of the boat.

The day we arrived in Cumberland was hot (by Canadian standards), so Arnie sported his Jet Stream cooling vest and we started the day with a trip to the bike wash station to wet him down. This tactic proved helpful in preventing him from getting too hot and Arnie was also excited to discover that a wet vest makes for an excellent filth-collector, as he proceeded to roll enthusiastically in the smelliest of swamps along the way. Arnie shredded the trails in style and even found some great lines on the more extreme features – I guess his lack of collarbones gives him extra confidence!

dog on top of boulder next to sign that says 'drop'

Tired and smelly after a long bike ride and a few tacos, we headed west towards our final destination, Ucluelet, a fishing-village turned surf-town on the west coast of the island, on the traditional lands of the Ucluelet Nation. Despite it being high season, we managed to score a great campsite just down the road from Wickaninish Beach and some of the region’s best surf. As we set up camp, I chuckled at the fact that I had brought no fewer than 3 beds for Arnie, while all I had was one ancient sleeping pad. Turns out the Highlands Pad makes for a pretty comfortable human resting place!

dog curled up, sleeping in a sleeping bag inside a tent

We awoke the next morning in time for a dawn patrol surf. Arnie waited patiently on the beach, in the shade of the driftwood logs, while Rob and I paddled out into the glassy waves. We would often return to the beach to find him with a new companion, curled up with his head resting on a friendly stranger’s knee. 

On our final morning on the west coast, Oregon’s forest fire smoke reached Vancouver Island, cloaking the region in a thick haze and making the grey sea indistinguishable from the air above. It was eerie to be bobbing on a surfboard without being able to see the horizon and gave us a frightening insight into the level of destruction experienced by the communities in the fire’s path. 

human and dog running on beach at sunset

I’ve known for a long time that spending time in wild places, with friends and dogs, is where I feel most alive. In a year where the world turned on its head, exploring outside with Arnie was the one constant when every other part of life seemed so uncertain. We spent many weeks over the summer traveling together, just the two of us, back and forth across the province for work. This trip with friends was a perfect way to end the season, and we arrived back in Canmore relaxed, with a car full of sand, dog hair and kettle chip crumbs, telltale signs of a great outdoor adventure. 

Dr. Bronwyn Fullagar is a specialist veterinary surgeon and outdoor adventurer. Follow her adventures with Arnie on Instagram