In 2016, Lynn Salvo, a dear friend, set a Guinness world record for being the oldest woman to cycle across the United States. Allison and I witnessed her historic wheel dipping in the Pacific Ocean at the Oceanside Pier in California and followed her closely on social media as she made her way east along the Ride Across America (RAAM) route, reaching the Atlantic 59 days later.

One cold winter morning the following year when Allison and I were visiting family in Pennsylvania, Lynn happened to be passing through, so we met up for breakfast. She took a sip of coffee, leaned over to me, and casually said: “you're the first person I am saying this to, but, I'm thinking of taking on Canada next.” I felt honored to be entrusted with this budding idea and kept it secret until she made her intentions public a few months later.

This June, after many months of meticulous planning, Lynn invited us to Tofino, Canada to send her off on the quest. We were delighted to oblige. Our first stop: Victoria, British Columbia.

Thetis Lake

The start of the trip coincided with Allison's birthday, the second we have celebrated internationally. I surprised her with a Garmin wrist band and a standup paddleboarding (SUP) tour of Thetis Lake, a scenic lake in the suburbs of Victoria.

We had some time to kill after breakfast and walked around town. At a Fjallraven store, the store attendant immediately noticed Allison's new Garmin. This got us talking, and it became clear that much of the city's population is comprised of athletes and health conscious lovers of the outdoors. As a triathlete from Turkey, he said it is easy to feel diminished in one's accomplishments in Victoria. “Oh, you did a half-IRONMAN?” people would say to him. “That's nice. I just ran a 100-miler and am doing another one next week.”

Driving over to Thetis Lake to pick up our SUPs, it was refreshing to see so many commuters travel by bike. Indeed, Victoria has some of the most bike friendly streets and trails; even the airport is bike accessible, with bike storage for $2/day for those who like to ride, park, and fly. There is even a bicycle assembly station for cyclists flying into the island.

Our boards were rented from Scenic Rentals Victoria, and Brent, who had recently purchased the business together with his wife, gave us a good rundown of the lake.

“Of all the places where we deliver SUPs, this is by far my favorite,” he said.

It is easy to see why. We had the boards for two hours, and for the first hour there was little paddling involved. The water lilies had us oohing and aahing, just begging to be photographed. Only iPhones were subjected to potential risk of submersion, so the Fujifilm sat this one out on the bench.

At one point there is a narrow channel with a small pedestrian bridge across, where one can bend down low and paddle over into the Upper Thetis Lake. We were leisurely exploring the water maze, when we realized we really needed to get back. A few wrong turns forced us to paddle at breakneck speed trying to make up time, and we still managed to return to the dock fifteen minutes late. Fortunately, Brent was laid-back and let us off easy. This was by far my most enjoyable paddleboarding experience.

The above image, shot on iPhone, photo credit: Allison.

Thetis Lake is also a popular spot for open water swimmers and triathletes who come here year-round to train. The water is quite warm in the summer (baby bathwater temperature, as Brent put it), but in June it is just on the edge of tolerable sans wetsuit.

We stayed in Oak Bay that evening, an affluent but unpretentious suburb of Victoria, straight east of downtown. Blighty's Bistro, a highly rated Canadian bistro a short walk from our Airbnb served as our birthday dinner venue. The food and ambience is delightful, and the chef highly accommodating of requests. The dessert menu seemed somewhat inappropriate for a birthday, so we decided instead to head down to the neighborhood pub.

Penny Farthing is an old school pub, offering a giant selection of outstanding beer and, this being Canada, poutine, an unhealthy concoction of French fries, cheese curds, and gravy, which much to my chagrin was not vegetarian. The pub's walls are decorated with 19th century Irish whiskey ads, whose content made our millenial eyes pop out of their sockets, like whiskey that is “highly recommended for invalids.”

Butchart Gardens

Steep admission, stunning flowers. That is how I would summarize Victoria's pride and joy of a botanical garden. Our Oak Bay Airbnb hosts spoke proudly of The Butchart's renowned status as the fourth best botanical garden in the world. “I don't even like flowers, and I think it's spectacular,” Jim said. Indeed, the sticker shock of the admission fee wore off quickly as our eyes were distracted by the floral splendor of an immense variety of flora. Judging by the medley of languages and accents we overheard, The Butchart attracts many international visitors.

I had visited Vancouver Island once before as a high school student on a day trip my parents organized while living in Vancouver, but I think I was too young to appreciate the gardens' splendor back then.

It is worth noting how much patience was required to capture the above and below images without also capturing garden visitors. With so many tourists, Butchart must be making out like a bandit.

The entrance fee includes a guide to the flowers, but the floral variety is so great that the print material could not possibly cover every blossom without weighing as much as a brick. Consequently, I have had to do some extensive after-the-fact research to identify the beauties below.

These aptly named peonies, Bowl of Beauty, are pretty much what they sound like.

The fuschia was blooming both in the garden and in the wild and is incidentally where the color fuschia originates.

The Poker Primrose is a fascinating flower I had not seen before. I love how the tiny blooms shaped like candy corn burst with color even when the top layer of petals has not quite opened up. It originates from the mountains of China and craves moisture, of which there is plenty in British Columbia.

Even ordinary petunias appear grand in the Butchart Gardens.

The Great Masterwort hails from the meadows of central Europe but has since spread to many other regions. Naturally, Butchart has the best of its kind.

After a thorough tour of each section and an overpriced gelato, we bid the gardens goodbye, returning to a parking lot that had filled up considerably since we arrived, and headed back to Thetis Lake for a swim and run.

Leaving Victoria behind, we headed north on Highway 1, also known as the Trans-Canada Highway towards Nanaimo, where ferries bridge the gap between the island and the remaining 4,800 odd miles to its easternmost terminus in Newfoundland and Labrador. Hoping to see some mountainous terrain further north, we crossed over to Highway 19 and hugged the eastern coast up to Courtenay.

The weather forecast was sunny and warm for the whole week, so we we were caught off guard by a surprise thunderstorm right around sunset that lasted mere minutes but left tremendous skies in its wake. At this high latitude, not only are the days long, but dusk tends to linger much longer than we are used to.

Kings Peak

With the Persenk 100-miler approaching fast, I had to start ramping up my training. That generally means getting in as much elevation gain as possible. Some preliminary research yielded Kings Peak in Strathcona Provincial Park, about two hours west from Courtenay. The mountain rises 6,775 feet above sea level, and the little information available to me suggested July and August are the best months to attempt a summit unless one is a prepared and experienced alpinist. I am not. I am just a trail runner, so I was prepared to go as high as I could on what would still qualify as a run.

As we chatted with folks in Victoria the day before and our Airbnb hosts in Courtenay after, it became apparent that Kings Peak, the eighth highest in British Columbia, is not well known at all. Indeed, just two cars were parked at the trailhead.

The hiking guidebook I borrowed from our Victoria Airbnb hosts classifies the trail as “very strenuous” and indicated that this is one of the most challenging day hikes on the island. Perfect!

The trail starts out easy enough, with nice rolling ups and downs through thick forest, and after the second mile quickly picks up elevation—a thousand feet per mile, much of it requiring scrambling over rocks and exposed tree roots. In mid-June the snowline is still at around 3,400 feet, which meant I only made it halfway to the top, but I felt good about it taking me just over an hour to get there.

Along the way, I passed several large waterfalls and made a few tricky creek crossings. Meanwhile, Allison patiently waited at the trailhead and when I arrived earlier than expected, we decided to take on a few scenic overlooks in the area.

The views were unremarkable, but the wildflowers stood out, like the above Columbia Tiger Lily...

... and this daisy. We drove back to Courtenay, stopping at Lady Falls and Elk River Falls, both of which were quick detours off the main road. The melting snowpack provided a generous volume of water to countless waterfalls in the area.


Our Airbnb hosts in Courtenay were the friendliest and most welcoming we had encountered using the service. Upon arrival Jeanne expressed surprise when we told her we are American. “Oh, you mean because of the current bickering between our two nations?” I asked. Trump had just declared fresh tariffs on Canadian imports on the basis of national security concerns, which the Canadians rightly found insulting.

“No, we just haven't hosted anyone from America since joining Airbnb last November,” she said. “Most guest are from Alberta or other parts of British Columbia.” Indeed, the guest books we signed over the past couple of days seemed to confirm this, as does a quick check on StatCan. Why aren't more Americans visiting?

We took a liking to each other immediately, and Jeanne graciously invited us for beers at their cabin by the lake the next day. We thought it would break up the drive to Tofino nicely, so we accepted.

“What's the address?” I asked.

She chuckled and said: “There is no address.” She followed up with a description of turning left and right after such and such a tree in Cathedral Grove. It sounded a bit like following a treasure map, and we had little confidence we would be able to find it. But, her instructions were spot-on, and the cabin visit turned out to be one of the highlights of our trip.

Handed down over generations, it is where the two got married half a century earlier, and where their son would host a stag party for his friends the following weekend. The structure hugs a supremely tall Douglas fir, which at present day is about five times taller than the two-story cabin.

“At night, when the wind picks up a little, you can hear the creaking and sometimes feel the movement as the tree sways,” Jeanne said. It called to mind the pine tree my grandfather had planted in Panagyurishte when I was born, and how humbling it felt to see it as an adult three decades later, far, far taller than my childhood home.

One of their sons who lives in South Korea was coming home later in the afternoon for Father's Day, which reminded us we had to call our fathers and continue our drive west. We bid goodbye and hoped to return.


Tofino is known as “the tough city” or “tuff city” from its early days of fishing and logging before tourists discovered the natural splendor of its surroundings. It seemed fitting that Lynn should start her journey here.

We reunited over dinner along with her trusted friend, Susie, who would operate Lynn's support vehicle as she had done during Lynn's United States crossing. Lynn seemed even more confident than the day before her first Guiness World Record embarkment, and rightly so. With the year not even half over, she had already cycled over 5,000 miles as part of her training, and we had no doubt she was more than well prepared for the next 5,000 miles that lay before her between here and the east coast of Nova Scotia.

As we watched the sun move ever so slowly towards the horizon over Tofino Bay, Lynn and Susie shared more details of the meticulously planned route for the next 70 days. Unlike the previous crossing, every accommodation along the way had been booked ahead of time, which meant a lot of work upfront, but hopefully smoother cycling.

The next morning, we reconvened outside her hotel to send her off. Tofino's tourism board spokesperson was there as Lynn's first witness. Guiness requires a local sign some paperwork each day to help corroborate her progress. Lynn chose a place called Long Beach, about 20km south, as the location of her symbolic wheel dipping in the Pacific Ocean. The beach here is so wide, it took several minutes to actually reach the water.

And with that she was off. From here, we would follow her along on her blog and Strava as she pushed relentlessly eastward.

I had hoped to do some more hill training near Tofino, but that did not materialize. A popular steep climb on an island just on the other side of the bay was an expensive $50 water taxi ride to reach, which seemed a rather high dollar per vertical foot ratio. Highway 4 out of Tofino snakes along the foothills of some staggeringly tall peaks, but sadly the few trails that exist are inaccessible and poorly maintained.

Instead, Allison and I hiked for a bit around Little Qualicum Falls. These were probably the most beautiful of all the waterfalls we saw on the trip.

This mini trip with an open itinerary was good practice for our upcoming European honeymoon. Knowing what to bring, how to pack, how long to stay are important aspects of long-term travel. We picked up some important lessons and felt ready for a big adventure of our own.