Tour 2020 – Island Hopping 2|3

Day 2 – Tuesday, September 29th, 2020

Two yellow orioles fill kingfisher-green willows with song.
Egrets climb away into crystalline skies, lone trail of white.

At my window: thousand-autumn snows on western peaks.
At my gate: boats bound ten thousand miles to eastern seas.
– Du Fu, translated by David Hinton

San Juan Island has the largest amount of available forest riding with three separate wooded areas that are all in roughly the same region. But I didn’t really feel like staying another night at San Juan County Park and so I’d need to make my way to another island, another campground. I was still determined to spend some hours riding in the woods, I just knew that there would be plenty left to explore here on another day. Happily the route I’d be taking back to to Friday Harbor and the ferry terminal went through the San Juan Island National Historic Park, where the bulk of this wooded riding was.

NFE at Roche Harbor Lake
NFE at Roche Harbor Lake

There is a vast network of trails in the National Historic Park which is where British Camp was during the Pig War. Most of the trails in the historic park don’t allow bicycling, but there are some and it abuts Roche Woods and the Lake reservoir it contains. There all the surrounding woods are thick with bike friendly paths. So departing in the crisp autumn morning I made my way first to British Camp for a little looksee and then into the woods.  The sun was shining and while it took a bit to warm up it became a beautiful day. I rode the loop path around the lake, stopping here and there at the scenic vistas.  The sun was on the lake and dragonflies in the air.  I looped back around to a rocky outcropping near where I had entered the wood for a picnic lunch.  I had seen one couple hiking during the hour and half or so I was riding in the woods. I lingered over lunch, enjoying sitting in the sun watching the birds and dragonflies and the autumn sun dance on the water.  But the sun doesn’t stay up so late anymore and I had miles to go and a ferry ride, before I sleep.

Mount Baker as seen from the ferry to Orcas Island
Mount Baker as seen from the ferry to Orcas Island
From Roche Lake it was a good piece on nice country roads before I arrived at Friday Harbor. There is more traffic these days on the islands than there used to be but for the most part it was lovely riding first in the woods than open valleys filled with wineries and farms.  I arrived in Friday Harbor and again didn’t spend much time there. I needed to get an item or two I’d forgotten to bring from the store but that was a quick jaunt. Then to the ferry which was loading as I arrived. Good timing.  I stayed down with my bicycle for the short hop to Orcas, really enjoying the sunny views of these islands and Kulshan (Mount Baker) in the distance. The afternoon was wearing away as the ferry made its landing on Orcas Island.


I stayed off the typical route to Eastsound, the main town in the central part of the island. Instead I took a backroads route that had a good stretch on gravel roads. Riding first past a small lake where a few people were fishing then it was onto the gravel roads deep in the woods. Late afternoon, in the autumn, once you are out of the sun it cools right down. But the hilliness of the riding kept me warm.  Great route, definitely a more enjoyable ride than the heavier trafficked Orcas Road. Eventually though you do have to ride a stretch there as one comes into town.  From Eastsound it’s a very hilly route out to Moran State Park where I’d be camping for the next two days.  Moran has one of my favorite hiker/biker sites and perfect in Covid times. It is nowhere near any of the car campgrounds, it has nine or so very well spaced out sites plus a central fire circle and a structure you can stash stuff in if it is raining. It has its own water and facilities.  Both days I camped here there was no-one else was here, which was even better. I arrived at twilight and by the time I’d finished setting up and having dinner it was very deep gloaming.


My photos from this day: Island Hopping Day 2.
Tour Photo Album: Island Hopping photoset.


Waldon Island as seen from Turtleback Mountain
Waldon Island as seen from Turtleback Mountain
Day 3 – Wednesday, September 30th, 2020


This morning dawned very foggy and from my campsite I watched the sun come up red and hazy as if through smoke. But it seemed to just be fog, and the mornings would be increasingly foggy for the rest of the tour.  Autumn in the islands.  I left mid-morning and backtracked to Eastsound. There I picked up a supplemental coffee and visited the Brown Bear bakery for pastries.  It was warm enough to enjoy those sitting outside. I didn’t feel the need to record the GPS of going out and back to Moran every time: yesterdays map is sufficient  I feel. So it was as I left Eastsound for this days riding in the woods that I turned it on.

After San Juan Island, Orcas has the largest amount of forest riding.  Moran State Park itself allows biking on many of the trails and paths there including up Mt. Constitution. Last time I was on Orcas I rode the main (paved) route up Mt. Constitution and doing it again, even offroad, wasn’t very compelling. Plus my goal was to be in the woods where less people would be and Moran is among the prime draws of Orcas. No, instead I headed to Turtleback Mountain all the way on the west side of the island.  This of course would require me to do the Eastsound to Moran stretch of road four times on this trip but, large climb notwithstanding, I had no complaints.

NFE at my Picnic spot on Turtleback Mountain
NFE at my Picnic spot on Turtleback Mountain

I had to ride a ways up Orcas Road before turning off onto Crow Valley Road which runs to the west of the more central main route.  From there I was able to turn off at the Turtleback Mountain trailhead which did have a few cars parked there.  The trailhead begins with an old logging road and immediately starts climbing. And Climbing. And Climbing. It was pretty much a straight climb from about 150 feet to over 1200 feet with several quite steep sections.  There were a couple of side trails with scenic overlooks, of which I took one that had a lovely view of Waldron Island and beyond to the Canadian Gulf Islands.  Turtleback mountain has a valley running down the middle of it and the trails split there and you can ride the ridges on both sides. You lose a lot of altitude to cross over, but you are able to ride both the west and the east in a loop with the high point on the eastern side. I went west first and pulled off and made my way through the woods to a grassy area for my picnic lunch. After all that climbing it was quite welcome. I lingered in the gloomy sun before riding down to where I could begin to ascend to the west side of the mountain. There wasn’t any open space from the “summit” so I just kept riding. It was a long, fast descent which, as I whipped down, I saw more and more people hiking up. I was leaving right at the opportune moment.

I backtracked to Eastsound where I had some food, my second time at an eating establishment, again outdoors, again sparsely attended. Again it felt weird, but worked out okay. I lingered a bit and then it was the old familiar route to Moran State Park where I read, had dinner and retired again all on my lonesome in the hiker/biker site.

It’s already mid-spring on the riverbank,
blossoms fallen, and sun still rises clear.

Hearing a bird, I look up to find nothing.
Turning back, I answer … no one there.

I read, skipping over hard parts with ease,
pour wine from always full jars.

That old Eyebrow Mountain sage is a new friend:
he knows it is here, in idleness, I am real.
-Du Fu, translated by David Hinton


My photos from this day: Island Hopping Day 3.
Tour Photo Album: Island Hopping photoset.

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