40 » OpenRoad Driver My daughter and I take an early morning ferry to Duke Point in Nanaimo, hitting the gas on Highway 19 North for the 80-minute drive from the Duke Point ferry terminal to Courtenay. The largest of the three cities in the Comox Valley, Courtenay marks the confluence of the Tsolum and Puntledge rivers and sits in the embrace of a half-circle of mountains and a massive, flat-topped glacier, Queneesh – the great white whale. It’s a beautiful place, especially so when you’re out on the water. Our first morning in town we kayak into the Courtenay River estuary with Mike White, a guide with Comox Valley Kayaks. Jellyfish and upturned clam shells float by as we paddle gently towards the Comox Harbour and the Strait of Georgia. Mike, a local who works in the Alberta tar sands and guides kayakers on his days off, gestures towards the banks of the estuary. “In low tide you can see the remains of fishing traps left by the First Nations thousands of years ago,” he remarks casually. They knew then, as locals know now, that the Courtenay River and estuary are thick with salmon at certain times of the year. In the fall the water churns with spawning salmon. The heads of seals, actively pursuing their next easy meal, are easy to spot. We return to town in time to change footwear, grab a biking helmet and meet Laurel Cronk, owner of Island Joy Rides. With a trailer packed with brand new bicycles, road snacks, iced water and chilled towels, Cronk leads guided bike tours in the valley, gentle rides along country roads and bike trails with stops at various culinary destinations along the way. Crisscrossing the rivers and pedaling past blueberry farms, you’re forced to slow down and get a different view of the valley. Our first stop is the Comox Valley Farmers’ Market, a colourful Saturday tradition where vendors sell fresh fruit, flowers, Comox cheese and bison yogurt. It’s a social place where folks are only too willing to “talk locavore” and share their passion for what they grow and make.