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  1. #1
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    3 days cycling around Washington's San Juan Islands (ride report w/pics)

    With my son ready to head off to college again next week, we wanted to spend some time together -- and I wanted to scratch a long-term itch to go cycling in the San Juan Islands (just off the coast of Anacortes, Washington). I'd planned a tour of the islands way back in 1983, but it didn't work out, and despite living nearby the past 10 years I'd just never made it up there with a bike.

    Our plan - very simple. Leave the car in Anacortes (2 hour drive from Seattle); take the ferry over to Friday Harbor, and then spend 3 days doing a loop of each of the larger islands: San Juan Island, Orcas Island, and Lopez Island. Cycling is really popular in the San Juans -- several commercial travel companies run combination cycling/kayaking/hiking trips through the islands; lots of locals travel to and from their summer places by bike to avoid the long lines to get cars off and on the ferries; and a fair number of other folks just ride out for the weekend.

    Some pics, starting with our day Friday:

    Approach to Friday Harbor by ferry:



    Lighthouse at Lime Kiln park. You can just make out the coast of Vancouver Island (Canada) in the background -- I don't know why we don't have guns pointed at Victoria to keep those Canadians under control. In any case, this is a popular spot for whale-watching, but they were in a different area on this day. We did get a *great* look at one of our local Orca pods on the way home at the end of our trip.



    Roche Harbor marina; this was originally the dock for a lime mine and lime kiln, now a resort/hotel/marina:



    Haro Hotel at Roche Harbor; this was the original hotel at the lime kiln complex (Teddy Roosevelt stayed here):



    Lots of nice inland views on the island:




    My son is an enthusiastic bike commuter, but not a serious cyclist at all. Friday's ride (at 38 miles) was his longest ride every. Lots of rolling hills, a couple of steep climbs that had both of us in our granny gears. But more was in store for us on Saturday...



    View from dinner Friday night:

    Last edited by BengeBoy; 08-17-10 at 11:42 AM.

  2. #2
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    Saturday, my son decided our goal should be to climb Mt. Constitution, the highest point in the San Juan Islands. It's only 2,400 feet tall at the summit, but it's a bear of a climb. The steepest part is 3.5 miles of switchbacks up a narrow two-lane asphalt road in a state park. It's much steeper than most mountain climbs out on the highway; it felt to me based on gears I was using and my (lack of) speed that many of the switchbacks were at least 12% (www.ridewithgps.com says it reaches 22% in a couple of stretches, and that a fair part of it is over 15%, but I don't necessarily trust those estimates).

    In any case -- I've done longer climbs, and I've done steeper climbs, but this is the steepest 3-mile climb I've done. And it was, by far, the biggest climb my son has done.

    Ferry dock at Orcas Island:



    Me at the village of East Sound:



    We stopped at the Saturday market, and enjoyed a human-powered smoothie:



    Cascade Lake, at the foot of the climb to Mt. Constitution. Beautiful mountain lake with camping, kayak rentals, etc.:



    The climb...





    The summit - great view of Mt. Baker, to the east, and Bellingham, Wa.:



    Enjoying some shade -- it was a *really* steep descent, so fast that we rode our brakes much of the way down, and stopped a couple of times to let our rims cool.



    After setting a new PR the previous day with a 38-mile ride, my son set a new one on Saturday at over 39 miles. In addition to the big climb, there were a fair amount of rollers for the rest of the ride. It was a challenging day.
    Last edited by BengeBoy; 08-17-10 at 05:01 PM.

  3. #3
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    Sunday was our 3rd and final day. On Friday and Saturday we had left our gear at the motel and ridden without anything extra on the bikes; for Sunday we loaded the bikes and headed to Lopez Island, which is on the way back to the mainland. Lopez is the most rural of the big 3 islands, and has the reputation as the most bike-friendly islands. A basic lap is a bit over 30 miles around the islands; a longer loop would be about 40 miles. We ended up taking it very easy, and to avoid missing our ferry we cut the loop short and ended up with about 28 miles.

    On the way over in the ferry, we got a good view of our nemesis from the prior day, Mt. Constitution:



    My bike taking it easy:



    Typical quiet Lopez Island road:




    All in all, a little over 100 miles of riding in 3 days. Lots of rolling hills, one big climb, many, many stops for coffee, cold drinks, smoothies, food, and the best cinnamon roll I've ever eaten.

    The trip was a big success, and I'd recommend it to anyone. You can stay on any of the islands, and ferry out to the other islands -- or move from island to island. There's also plenty of accommodation options -- from camping to yurts to B&B's to hotels and resorts. There are plenty of cycling options, too -- from easy (Lopez) to challenging (you could easily put together a 50 to 60 mile day hammerfest on Orcas Island, including the climb up Mt. Constitution).

    Did someone mention there is a 50+ ride weekend coming up next summer???
    Last edited by BengeBoy; 08-16-10 at 09:49 PM.

  4. #4
    Senior Member NOS88's Avatar
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    Wow, that was quite the trip. Great photos. BTW how was the smoothie?
    A conclusion is the place where you got tired of thinking. - S. Wright

  5. #5
    Senior Member kr32's Avatar
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    Very nice report, thanks for sharing.
    Seems like a good way to spend time with family.
    no goals , just ride

  6. #6
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    Quote Originally Posted by NOS88 View Post
    BTW how was the smoothie?
    Good -- it was finished in a hurry.

  7. #7
    Senior Member miss kenton's Avatar
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    Beautiful pictures and such an interesting trip! Really nice. I find there are few things better than riding with my son. It is so nice you had that opportunity to do that with your son. Thanks for sharing this.

  8. #8
    Senior Member BigBlueToe's Avatar
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    I wondered where you were going. Once again, thanks for the pictures of my old stomping grounds. I did two of my first bike tours in the 70's when I was in college at Western. They were magical experiences and had much to do with my lifelong love of bike touring. I never climbed Mount Constitution, but it can vouch for its fame (or infamy?) I liked the view from the top looking towards Bellingham. I saw the same view looking the other way - from Bellingham to Mount Constitution - almost every day for 13 years.

    Thanks again, and it sounds like a great tour. What fun to share it with your son.

  9. #9
    Senior Member George's Avatar
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    Absolutely beautiful. Your bike almost looks like BluesDawg's.
    George

  10. #10
    I need speed AzTallRider's Avatar
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    Wow.. gorgeous. Thanks.

  11. #11
    stringbreaker stringbreaker's Avatar
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    You picked the best week to bike this year. It was pretty warm but at least it was clear. Last week we did the Poulsbo ride and the weather left much to be desired, same as last year when we rode Lopez Island. The only three days in August it rained was the three days we took off.
    (Life is too short to play crappy guitars) 2006 Raleigh Cadent 3.0, 1977 Schwinn Volare, 2010 Windsor tourist. ( I didn't fall , I attacked the floor)

  12. #12
    Around now and then DnvrFox's Avatar
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    It was just a couple of years ago that my wife and I - without bikes - did the same islands by ferry, staying at Whidbey (sp?) Island for 3 nights, then staying on the mainland and ferrying to different spots, including Olympic National Park.

    We had GREAT weather - all you folks who say it rains so much are wrong - but we did learn that the San Juans, because of their sheltering by the Olympic Peninsula - were much drier, getting only 20-30 inches per year.

    Great shots - and WHAT A GREAT TIME - you and your son will never forget this trip.

    Thanks for sharing.
    DnvrFox - still bicycling, swimming, walking and weight lifting at 74yo is participating a bit in BFN 50+.

  13. #13
    RKW
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    What a great trip! We were over there last month trying out the kayaking but I didn't take my bike. Every cyclist I talked to was wearing a big grin. Thinkin about doing the Tour de Lopez next spring. When is the geezer ride?

    We passed a sign for Benge, WA out there in the Lacrosse/Washtucna area. Your point of origin?
    I used to brag about how late I stayed up, now I brag about how early I went to bed.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by RKW View Post

    We passed a sign for Benge, WA out there in the Lacrosse/Washtucna area. Your point of origin?

    My screen name refers to these:



    I own 2.

    Story here:

    http://www.musicbyjoelill.com/benge/index.htm

  15. #15
    RKW
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    Well I can't get to that link here at work, but will check it out later. Glad I didn't ask if you missed eastern WA ...
    I used to brag about how late I stayed up, now I brag about how early I went to bed.

  16. #16
    Time for a change. stapfam's Avatar
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    So you didn't need the wedge or the Goretex then

    Glad to see you had a couple of bottles though and that you had enough sense to partake of the local food instead of living off Powerbars or the like.

    Looks a good ride- distance each day comfortable- and enough time left over to see the local sights and sample the local produce.

    Sounds ideal for a long weekend.
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  17. #17
    Dharma Dog lhbernhardt's Avatar
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    Wonderful photos. Now you've got me interested in doing a San Juans ride. I've been to most of the Canadian Gulf Islands, but haven't been to the San Juans yet. There's a ferry that runs from Victoria's Inner Harbour to Friday Harbor. Looks like a multi-day trip. Wonder if I can get the fixie up Mt. Constitution! Thanks for the report!

    Luis

  18. #18
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    Quote Originally Posted by lhbernhardt View Post
    Wonderful photos. Now you've got me interested in doing a San Juans ride. I've been to most of the Canadian Gulf Islands, but haven't been to the San Juans yet. There's a ferry that runs from Victoria's Inner Harbour to Friday Harbor. Looks like a multi-day trip. Wonder if I can get the fixie up Mt. Constitution! Thanks for the report!

    Luis
    I think the ferry from Victoria to Friday Harbor is the Victoria Clipper (?). You can also take the Washington State Ferry system from Sydney, B.C. (just up the road from Victoria) over to either Friday Harbor or Anacortes.

  19. #19
    Senior Member ecrider's Avatar
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    Very nice. You always plan such interesting trips. It's great you got to spend time with your son before school.
    Last edited by ecrider; 08-17-10 at 08:36 PM.

  20. #20
    Senior Member jedde's Avatar
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    You gotta treasure times like this with your son. Seems like my boys and I have so few getaways lately. Uh-oh, a "Cat in the Cradle" pang is coming on...

    Great story and pics.

  21. #21
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    Great trip and report, BB. Did you need to make reservations or were you able to find accomodations on-the-fly?

  22. #22
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    Quote Originally Posted by The Smokester View Post
    Great trip and report, BB. Did you need to make reservations or were you able to find accomodations on-the-fly?
    I made last-minute reservations, about 3 days before we left. I don't know the San Juan's well so I consulted a few online directories and started calling. I wasn't totally happy w/the place we stayed but we weren't there much anyway so it didn't matter. I noticed while traveling around there are lots of small places (inns, lodges, B&B's) that were not in any of the online resources I'd consulted, so I ordered "The Moon Guide to the San Juan Islands" when I got home.

    Next time I go I want to stay here:

    http://doebay.com/resortmap.html

  23. #23
    Senior Member FL_MarkD's Avatar
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    Wonderful story and great pictures. Glad you had the time with your son, lifelong memories. And that bike is beautiful! I am working on a light touring/commuter build right now and that looks like what I am planning.

    Thanks for sharing, Mark
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  24. #24
    cycling fanatic Ken Brown's Avatar
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    Love the photos! In 1980 (wow, 30 years ago), I cycled in the Canadian Gulf Islands, then did a tour across to Port Angeles and on to Seattle, returning via Anacortes. It is some of the most beautiful country in the world.

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