To go out on pilgrimage, to wander unencumbered by our daily burdens, this I felt was essential, but how to do so in these times was the question. Times being what they are I didn’t feel that extensive touring was appropriate and the ideal trip would be more in the backcountry where there are few people and lots of space. This led to my summer backpacking trip on Washingtons Wilderness Coast. At the time I thought I might do an early autumn backpacking trip in the North Cascades. But as the summer wound down my yearning for a bicycle tour grew. Bikepacking is of course the obvious equivalent here and there are options. But I didn’t quite have the luxury of enough time. Riding to the Olympics or to the Cascades, two good bikepacking options each requires a couple of days out and back. Normally I would solve this with public transit, but not up for that amidst the pandemic. There are plenty of routes that I have done many times right out my front door, but those depend on a campgrounds that just seem overly crowded in these times. What I finally settled on was that I could drive to the Anacortes Ferry Terminal with my bicycle, park for five days and ride in the San Juans from Monday through Friday.
At this point, late September I was banking on weekdays not being so crowded (though everything outdoors is more crowded than it used to be) and hiker/bike sites not being packed liked they are in the summer. Even with so much remote, most people still have to do their remote jobs or school during the week. Furthermore the hiker/biker sites, especially at Moran State Park, are often quite separated from the main campgrounds. Touring the San Juans, which I’ve only really done on my very first tour in 2004 (though I spent two days on Orcas on my 2015 tour), is a pleasant mix of tourist town pubs, coastal roads, beaches, forest riding and of course the ferries. At this point hanging out in the quant little tourist towns didn’t seem very compelling, so I came up with an alternate plan: riding in the woods.
Riding on dirt roads in forests is my absolute favorite form of riding. Don’t get me wrong, there are many other forms I love as well, but riding logging roads in the woods goes back to when I was in single digits. Fidalgo Island, where I lived during those single digit years, has quite a bit of forest land most of which had been logged by the early twentieth century and then again in the mid-twentieth century. That’s right all of the San Juans and most of the Northwest in general is third growth. Our appetites are without bounds. But that third growth is networked with trails and in the recent decades increasing amounts of it has been preserved and made available for hiking, horseback riding, bicycling and so on. The Anacortes Community Forest Lands has been a frequent destination for me since I moved back to these Islands. But it turns out that San Juan Island, Orcas Island, Lopez Island and Shaw, that is to say the San Juan Islands, all have their own protected community forest lands each with a network of trails with bicycle access.
So this would be the theme of my trip: riding in the woods, camping at hiker/biker sites and mostly staying out of the towns. The ferries were the one unavoidable point of interaction but at least you can be outside there. So this all decided, at least where to camp and where the woods were at, I packed myself up and drove up to the ferry early Monday morning.
Day 1 – Monday, September 28th, 2020
For every other bicycle tour I have embarked upon, I rode from my front door. Sometimes I rode to the train or put the bicycle on a bus pretty quickly, but this was the first tour I drove to where I’d start. Again this was a limitation on time. I could have ridden up Whidbey Island and camped at Washington Park right by the ferry terminal on Fidalgo Island. But it’s a full days ride there and back and wanted to spend my time in the Islands instead of riding up Whidbey, which is a common activity for me now. So I drove to the ferry terminal, parked the car and paid for a week of parking and headed to the terminal. I was able to buy a ticket from a machine and then it was just a matter of waiting for the next ferry. Waiting was the operative word for the ferries this trip as they were always late, sometimes by hours. Eventually it did show up and I joined the group of walk-ons, including one other bicycle touron.
At this point I realized that being in these crowds of people was a very uncomfortable situation. It wasn’t like high summer where there could be dozens of cyclists and a hundred walk-ons along with the full car deck. But there was still more people than I wanted to be around. I kept my mask on and stayed outside, but I didn’t find myself enjoying the ferry trip as much as I normally did. On the rest of the ferry trips this tour I tended to mostly stay on the car deck where there were less people. Happily the inter-island ferries were both more on time and less crowded and I wouldn’t again be in quite as uncomfortable a situation until the return trip.
The lateness of the ferry messed up my schedule and I arrived at Friday Harbor on San Juan Island well past time for lunch. My plan had been to make all my meals and only go into town if I needed supplies and such. But being ready for lunch and with miles before a good picnic destination I ended up having lunch in Friday Harbor. This was the first time I’d eaten at a restaurant in six months. Now at this time, late September 2020, Skagit County was in Phase 3 of Washinton’s phased reopening plan (since discarded in 2021 for a new set of phases) and thus things were open and transmission rates were low. But with all the tourists I was being extra cautious. So I was outside with only one other occupied table a good distance away amidst a stiff breeze. So not too bad, though again uncomfortable. Frankly it is just strange being around people at this point. I enjoyed my woodfired pizza though
From Friday Harbor I took the ‘Airport Trail’ which connected to America Camp Trail. The airport trail wended through the outskirts of town past the airport and across various fields and vacant lots. This was a general purpose trail into and out of town, though pretty rough and didn’t seem heavily travelled. Definitely repurposed shortcuts and peoples paths. America Camp trail mostly was in woods and fields paralleling the road out to Cattle Point. This trail it turned out was not open to cycling, though I rode on it for quite a while before I figured that out. I only saw one couple walking their dog so I wasn’t a problem for a lot of walkers. Once signage appeared and I saw the no bicycles I quickly turned to the road and rode out most of the way to Cattle point to a spot where there was a lovelocks view of the sea with Seattle and Mount Rainer in the far distance.