Margaret and I were a little surprised when REI told us that they wouldn’t ship our new tent to us in British Columbia. “Yep,” the chipper young man said, “you folks are gonna have to come on down and pick it up.” It’s not that the Bellingham store was so far away, just that we didn’t want to go through the hassle of waiting in a sometimes near endless lineup to clear customs.
Then we put our thinking caps on. We could pedal down! Bicycles (like pedestrians) go right to the front of the line at border crossings. What if we left Salt Spring Island on Easter Friday morning and gave ourselves a little cycling holiday? How great would that be! And the planning began:
First Consideration: Time of year. Yes, it had been a mild winter, but it was still early April and that meant cool weather and high probability of rain. We talked it back and forth until Margaret looked at me with a gaze of utter certainty and we both resolved that no matter how cool or how wet, we would be just fine. Silly us!
Second consideration: Wind direction: The prevailing winds are from the south. Yet, we determined that starting in the north was our best bet: the ferry from Victoria to Port Angeles left too late in the day; the ferry from Sidney to Anacortes wouldn’t be running yet; and, we didn’t want to be anywhere close to REI on Saturday April 4th – it was their Garage Sale day.
Third consideration: Out and back or Circle Trip? At the beginning of the planning cycle, we were pretty pragmatic thinkers. We figured that if the weather was just terrible on Friday, we could go as far as Bellingham, stay over night, and return to Canada through Blaine. Then we somehow became magical thinkers. “Psssha!” we thought. “We’ve never explored this part of the NW on bikes!” “It’s an adventure.” “Look, only 30% chance of rain by Sunday.” And, without really saying so, we pretty much commited to riding from Tsawwassen to Port Angeles, to Victoria and home.
The Short Story
We figure the distance at about 100 kilometres per day or a total of 310 kms (193 miles). On Friday we got as far as Bellingham. On Saturday we got to Port Townsend. On Sunday we pedalled down to Port Angeles and, following a lovely trip on the Black Ball Ferry, headed back to Salt Spring Island from Victoria. The picture below outlines the route we took. The thick blue lines are ferry crossings, the black thick lines are where the rubber hit the road and the thin zig zaggy line is our crazy border.
By the time we left to catch our 0615 ferry from Salt Spring to Swartz Bay, we were all but chuckling about the rain. Earlier forecasts of 60% chance of rain had been revised to a 100% chance by the time we got to Bellingham. And, if that wasn’t enough, Windfinder was showing 20knot (37 km/hr) winds from the South South East. Still, the morning sky was clear and we were warm, well-fed and keen to go. If you want to skip the narrative an annotated version of the circle route is available here.
We changed ferries at Swartz Bay and arrived at Tsawwassen about 0840. We noticed that the windsock on the most easterly dock was unusually straight. Only a nervous ripple of torn threads indicated that it wasn’t a frozen solid object. Sudden moment of awareness: that wind was coming from where we were going. So much for Consideration 2. Still, the sky was filled with billowy white clouds and large blue patches. Off we went, arriving at the border about 1100.
The winds really didn’t start to torture us until about 1245. We had a bite to eat in Birch Bay and had just finished enthusing about BP’s granting cycling & pedestrian access to its Point Whitehorne property when the first of many long gusts visited upon us. Yet, we were beautiful about it. I tucked down, Margaret snuggled in right behind me and we assumed our 8 km/hr grind into one sick wind. This is what it felt like.
Just after we turned south from Ferndale, WA, the wind was joined by heavy rains. We were so wet. And we hadn’t considered what zillions of little raindrops would feel like when they were tossed into our faces by a 50 km/h headwind. They hurt. Just like “no-see-ums” in the summer, each little prick found its place on the podium of pain and then moved over to let its compadre step in. Oh, and there was the thing about the temperature. It kept dropping? Blaine = 11C (52F); Ferndale = 7C (45F); Bellingham = 4C (39F).
When we finally walked into REI with our shopping cart full of panniers, we were accompanied by a distinctive squish-squash soundtrack. The greeter was marvellous and a little amused. We stripped down right there in the tent section: coats, micro-fleece, turtle necks were all gone. We stood there in technical Ts and rain pants, searched out the warmest areas of the store (Women’s & Checkout), then picked up our tent. By the time we arrived at our BnB the rain had stopped, we were packin’ a hot roasted chicken and a bottle of wine and we endlessly thanked our host as we tossed our wet gear into the dryer. Tomorrow, we thought, would be better! And it was.
Up at 0630 and on the road by 0730 riding the beautiful Bellingham Interurban Trail paralleling Chuckanut Drive. We dropped out of the mountains and into hip little Edison about 0930 (country cafe on east side/hipster artisanal roaster west side). After java, we revisited the wind tunnel on Farm to Market Road. Unlike Friday, we were ready for it and after 10kms of gradual incline we arrived at cycling purgatory: Hwy 20. Loud, Loud, Loud. Fast. Fast. Fast. Lucky for us we had a beautiful tailwind pushing us over the bridge to Fidalgo Island. After we turned south away from Anacortes there were fewer cars. Still Hwy 20 to Coupeville was our least favourite section to ride.
After having had a glorious lunch well-off-the-road, and surviving a close encounter on the Whidbey Island bridges we paced ourselves through to the ferry terminal south of Coupeville. An hour later we were in our budget accommodations and on the prowl for the best burger in Port Townsend. We found it at Doc’s.
M and I were very curious about the Olympic Discovery Trail. We’d heard lots about it and were keen to experience it on a bike. Someday it will be a great trail. Today it is a very good trail. Starting with the Larry Scott trail in Port Townsend, it takes you mostly off-road and close to natural values. Signage is sometimes ambiguous and so it’s best to go to their excellent website and reference their downloadable section maps. We loved riding it. We loved thanking the volunteers we met along the way. We even kind of enjoyed the unexpected 9km detour at Dungeness Creek just outside of Sequim.
When we rolled into Port Angeles, we had been bone dry for two days. Our faces were wind- and sun-burned (gotta remember that sunblock!) and we knew we’d had a real adventure. Almost no one was on any of the trails so we had lots of tiime to ride together and chat. After arriving in Victoria, the trip home was like reading an old book. Sitting in the living room with a glass of wine, we both were exhausted, though neither of us were tired. We just didn’t want it all to end.