I thought easing in slowly was the best way to restart after a year of pandemic isolation — a walk with a friend, a patio meal, a tentative booking for a fitness class. Instead I went ziplining.
When the tour guide at Mount Washington Alpine Resort clipped me onto the Holy Hawk line and screamed “Three-two-one-GO!” any hesitation from a year of hand-wringing flew away on the wind. It’s Go Time, and there’s nothing like a shot of adrenaline to remind you of all life can be.
After an after-work drive from Victoria to the Comox Valley, I checked into the Old House Hotel & Spa in Courtenay. The suite hotel is the kind of fancy that gives you everything you want (a plush robe for the walk to the pool, a full kitchen, a fireplace) without being pretentious or fragile. If the heated salt water pool and hot tub on the treed back patio doesn’t wash away your stress, book a massage or facial at the Ohspa on site.
Mt. Washington’s ZipTour is four lines long (plus a pint-sized practice run), and it’s not for the faint of heart. On the day I visited, thick cloud cover meant we could only ride the bottom two runs, but they happen to be the steepest (24 per cent grade) and longest (two minutes from launch to landing). Summer on Vancouver Island usually brings drought-like conditions, so in July and August chances are pretty good you’ll be able to ride the top two lines as well.
Things I loved?
- Riders must weigh between 50 and 260 lbs, but the scales in the lobby don’t have numbers — if the needle is in the green zone when you step on, you’re good to go.
- You’re clipped to the zipline by a trolley, and you’re in full control of your speed. Rip down at full throttle, hit the brakes, or leap frog with a friend riding on the line beside you.
- Each run has two lines side-by-side, so you can bring a friend for moral support, or race each other to the bottom.
The tour doesn’t include much hiking, but you do need a fair amount of core and arm strength to pull up the brake and make your trolly roll.
There’s mountain biking at Mt. Washington, but for a more DIY feel, rent a bike from Beaufort Cycles and hit the trails in the Cumberland Community Forest. Before you go, download the free Trailforks App for a geo-referenced map of the extensive trail network. I’m a novice trail rider and really enjoyed the “Short Fun Blue Loop” which starts with a 10 to 20 minute climb on Davis Lake Main then hits Missing Link, Found Link, Kitty Litter and Space Nugget on the way down. Space Nugget had such nice flow I climbed up and rode it again. That whole route took less than two hours.
The friendly staff at Beaufort set me up with a state-of-the-art ride that certainly made the trails smooth — fat tires, a dropper post for easy mid-ride seat adjustments, and plenty of other bells and whistles. The Cumberland bike community was also unbelievably inclusive: plenty of children, seniors, pros and novices, great gender representation and almost everyone said hello. The forest was alive with people having a good time, and yet whenever I ducked into a trail I had it to myself.
Walk in the woods
Once you’ve blasted the pandemic blues with adrenaline sports, you can spend your Sunday at a slower pace. I did the wheelchair-accessible forest walk in Nymph Falls Nature Park, which ends at a series of rapids, swimming holes and rope swings where you can while away an afternoon. Find other options in Strathcona Provincial Park, along Trent River or at Seal Bay Regional Nature Park.
Know before you go
- Where to stay: Old House Hotel & Spa in Courtenay.
- Where to eat: Locals Restaurant is attached to Old House Hotel & Spa, featuring fine dining from local ingredients. Dinner entrées are around $40. Atlas Café in downtown Courtenay has an earthy atmosphere and a selection of bowls, burgers and for around $20 a plate. Nikkei Ramen-Ya makes everything from scratch, including the noodles and broth. For espresso and vegetarian-friendly breakfast, go to Mudsharks Coffee Bar (they were offering 50 per cent off select menu items before 9 a.m. when I visited in June). For a classic diner breakfast with a local twist and bottomless drip coffee, visit Plates Eatery. For drive-thru espresso, muffins and smoothies, swing by Courtenay Grind. Treat yourself with Blue Spruce Ice Cream.
- What to do: Sign up for a Ziptour adventure at Mt. Washington Alpine Resort. Mountain bike in the Cumberland Forest — trails are free, and you can rent a bike from Beaufort Cycles. Hike or swim at Nymph Falls, or check out discovercomoxvalley.com to choose your own adventure.
- Getting there: Courtenay, Cumberland and Comox are three separate communities within 20 minutes of each other in the Comox Valley, about a three-hour drive from Victoria. Fly to Comox Valley Airport or take the ferry from Vancouver’s Horseshoe Bay to Nanaimo and drive one hour north.