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by REMY SCALZA

Vancouver cyclists know that on a sunny day downtown’s famous seawall can turn into a bit of a traffic jam.  Runners, walkers, rollerbladers and throngs of bikers make cycling the scenic route feel like a ride through rush-hour traffic.

For the path less traveled, head south to the Vancouver suburb of Tsawwassen and Boundary Bay Regional Park.  Boundary Bay – so named because it marks the border between British Columbia and Washington State – embraces dramatic mudflats, salt marshes and dunes and sandy beaches.  Best of all, it offers great biking, minus the crowds.

Check out Boundary Bay’s 20.4-kilometre Dyke Trail.  The flat, gravel path rims nearly the entire northwestern side of the bay, running from Tsawwassen into Delta and concluding in Surrey at Mud Bay Park.  Start the journey at Tsawwassen’s Centennial Beach, situated about a one-hour drive south of Vancouver along Highway 99.  On a sunny afternoon, the beach can be busy with families having picnics and couples taking long walks on the sandy flats exposed at low tide.

The first, four-kilometre section of the Dyke Trail (referred to as the 12th Avenue Dyke Trail) works its way through low dunes set just back from the waterfront.  This time of year, sandpipers, seagulls and all kinds of ducks can be seen along the shoreline.  In fact, Boundary Bay is regarded as one of the critical stops for birds migrating along the Pacific Flyway.  During migration, more than 100,000 birds can flock to the bay.

After a few kilometres, the bike trail leaves the beach and exits onto Beach Grove Road. This quiet back street offers a nice contrast to the otherwise undeveloped sections of the Dyke Trail.  Big trees shade the lavish, beachfront homes that line the street, Tsawwassen’s equivalent of Millionaires’ Row.

A sharp right turn brings you back out to the bay and the main, 16.4-kilometre stretch of the Dyke Trail.  The path is perfectly flat and pretty much free of potholes, which leaves plenty of time for admiring the scenery. In the distance, the bay is backed by the snowy peaks of the Cascade Mountains. To the south, you can make out the enormous, glaciated cap of Washington’s Mt. Baker.

Closer at hand, there’s plenty of wildlife to admire.  Pull off and grabb your binoculars to take a closer look at a bald eagle, perched on a branch hanging over the trail.  It can be close enough that youI could make out its curved beak and yellow eye, scanning the bay for its next meal.

The trail continues past Boundary Bay Airport – a small regional airport – and then threads into the rich farmland of Delta.  You will rumble past flat, newly plowed fields extending away from the bay. (Judging from the smell, the fields were also newly fertilized.) Here and there a copse of low trees in the fields offer shelter for nests of great blue herons.  The giant birds seemed to fly to and from the bay nearly non-stop, casting dark shadows over the bike trail.

At a junction where the trail joins Delta’s 72nd Street, you will  notice a new type of animal – birdwatchers … and lots of them.  Birders carrying giant camera lenses clustered along the trail, waiting patiently for shots of harrier hawks and other raptors that zoom over the marsh in search of food.  As you continued on, you can  count at least a dozen hawks, flying just a few metres off the ground, then landing suddenly, talons bared.

The one thing you won’t encounter along the Dyke Trail is crowds.  A solitary bike might whizz by now and then. You’ll pass a few older couples and young families out for a walk.  But mainly you’ll have the trail to yourself. You will eventually reach the Delta Heritage Air Park, a tiny, bayside air strip whose grounds are filled with vintage planes, including rickety, sheet-metal models that look like they might have seen service in World War I.

You can find a bit of grass opposite the park. Hop off the bike and sit back to soak up the view.  The mud flats of Boundary Bay stretched out for miles. Beyond, you can see the distant mountains rising on Vancouver Island. Other than that, there is nothing – no cars, no boats, no people – as far as you can  see. For urban cyclists, this might be the rarest luxury of all.

Photo credit: Gord McKenna | Flickr

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